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Perspectives on Branding and Identity from Franke+Fiorella
Issue No.37

Leveraging Imagery in Visual Identity Systems

Of all the elements that comprise an organization’s visual identity system, none has as much potential for making a message more impactful, memorable or more relevant than imagery. It has the power to feed the mind and stir the soul.

Print communications have always relied on imagery to create visual appeal, but as an integral part of a visual identity system, it’s surprising that it's rarely leveraged to its fullest. Imagery works its magic by creating an emotional impression that lasts. But, it doesn’t stop there. If imagery is successfully associated with a brand, then the brand and all of its collective experiences make an even bigger impression. So, what’s the secret?

We’ve outlined four tips to leveraging imagery as a powerful element in identity systems:

1. Create a style that is uniquely yours. In photography, camera angles, subject matter, color and lighting style create a mood or an emotion that expresses much more than the content of an image. Similarly, illustration can be used to establish a distinctive style that is unique to a brand with the ability to create a powerful personality. Work with your designer, photographer or illustrator to develop a style that consistently communicates the personality of your brand. And, even more importantly, if your brand strategy is not yet defined, take the time to define it so that your imagery selection supports your strategy.

2. Define the style and ensure consistent application. Consistently expressing a brand is key to earning recognition. Think of Apple. They have a clear style of imagery that is seen in everything from their print ads to packaging. Even before you see the logo, you know when something is from Apple.

Defining the image style and providing guidelines help ensure it can be repeated consistently over time. The sum of all the images an organization may use should add up, in the viewer’s mind, to a singular, cohesive impression of the brand.

Standards should be defined for every type of imagery that may be used in the organization. It may be helpful to create categories like products, people, raw materials and so on. The styles for each category should work well together. Include plenty of “on-brand” examples and specifics for attaining the desired outcome for the image. Describe lighting, focus, cropping, etc. as necessary. Likewise, it can be helpful to provide examples of images that would be considered “off-brand” as a benchmark.

3. Build a digital asset management system. Digital asset management systems, or image libraries, as they are sometimes called, are excellent tools to help manage your brand. With a thorough review and approval process, an organization can help ensure that the images contained in the system consistently express the brand. It will also make image selection faster and create cost efficiencies for your design team.

Once the digital asset management system is in place and new images are added routinely, remember to conduct inventory reviews on a regular basis. Some types of imagery will appear dated sooner than others and some images may become over-used. Annual or biannual reviews are recommended to ensure an up-to-date system.

If you’re not already using a digital asset management system, consult with your designer, photographer or IT department to find out more about effective and efficient image systems and software.

4. Know the benefits of original versus stock photography. When it comes to creating and expressing a consistent brand image that is distinctive and unique, shooting original photography has the strongest advantage. There are times (when budgets or timing is tight) when stock photography will work. But it’s important to keep in mind that stock photos are not created with any particular brand or strategy in mind. If you’ve clearly defined your brand strategy and image style, original photography offers better control over the finished product and the ability to “own” the image so it doesn’t appear in someone else’s communications.

Imagery, when it fully expresses the brand and what the brand stands for, has the ability to stir emotion more than any other design element in a visual identity system. A defined, consistent imagery style that’s unique to your brand will help create impressions and relationships that last.

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