Your Visual Vocabulary is an essential tool in your business’s brand identity toolkit. It is made up of all of the graphics that supplement your logo, forming the graphic “face” of your business and anchoring your brand identity.
Think of your logo as the “superhero” of your brand, and the Visual Vocabulary elements as its “sidekicks”; in many design applications and finished materials, your logo won’t appear by itself. It will have the help of all of these Visual Vocabulary elements to accomplish its job of communicating and connecting with your target market.
Your Visual Vocabulary can include design elements such as:
o Font styles: You should have a small collection of typefaces, font weights, and styles that you use regularly in your materials. Consider fonts for both print and web use, and specify styles for headlines, subheads, and body copy in each case, at minimum. For each style, you should specify the font to use, the color it should be, and its paragraph alignment: whether it should be centered, left-aligned, or justified (where the text lines up with both sides of the column).
o Colors: Creating a color palette for your business can add flexibility to your materials and give you an easy resource to go to when choosing colors for illustrations, graphics, or any other part of your Visual Vocabulary. If you keep your colors consistent and limited, then you’ll develop a more focused palette that will be easier for your audience to associate with your business.
o Shapes: The shape that you use for your bullets, callout boxes, color-blocked areas, and even borders in your materials can create a strong visual component that will contribute to your memorability.
o Layout: The layout of a piece is how the different elements are laid out on the page. This covers elements like the number of columns and the placement of all of the other Visual Vocabulary elements.
o Backgrounds: Using background screens or shapes, or even a specially designed watermark, can give your materials an extra bit of flair. You can also develop a special background that will make your materials stand out.
o Photographs: Photos can add a lot of personality to your materials and really help you to make a connection with your target audience. You can purchase stock photography inexpensively these days; buy a few shots that are compelling and really match the rest of your Visual Vocabulary. Make sure that you buy the highest resolution and largest size that you’ll need for materials down the road.
o Special textual treatments: For very special text that you want to highlight, such as your tagline, marketing bullets, sidebars, or bullets that detail your specialties, consider specifying a special face, size, and color to use in all of your materials.
o Paper type: Printing your materials on a special type of paper can make them look even more interesting. Papers come in different colors, textures, and thicknesses that can contribute to your material’s uniqueness.
To create a Visual Vocabulary for your business, you should create a set of specifications for the types of design elements you will use in all of your marketing materials. Once you have laid out the set of “rules” for your Visual Vocabulary, use the same elements consistently throughout your materials. When trends change, or when your business grows or your materials become stale, you can simply change some or all of these elements to create a new, fresh look.
Specifying the qualities of these design elements and using them consistently throughout your marketing materials will have many benefits, including:
o Increasing your brand’s memorability: A Visual Vocabulary gives your marketing materials more designed visuals. Adding more visuals makes your materials, and your company, more memorable.
o Making your brand designs more flexible: A Visual Vocabulary can provide you with a set of visuals that are more loosely tied to your business than your logo, which means that you can exchange and recombine those visuals for different campaigns, service offerings, or products. You can also redesign your Visual Vocabulary elements during the lifecycle of your business, updating and refreshing your materials as necessary, while still backing them with a solid logo and brand identity base.
o Adding to the consistency of your marketing materials: When you use your Visual Vocabulary across all of your marketing materials, the repeated elements add to your visual consistency.
o Making your business’s materials stand out from the competition: Your Visual Vocabulary can add a lot of personality to your materials, differentiating them from your competition’s marketing pieces. It can also add visual information to your materials, to help tell your business’s story.
o Making a small business look larger: By expanding your brand design with more surrounding graphics, you’ll expand your designs and make your small business look like a bigger business.
A Visual Vocabulary provides a powerful key to your target market, helping it to better understand your business: what you offer and how you work. It also contributes to your business’s memorability.
Erin Ferree is a brand identity and marketing design strategist who creates big visibility for small businesses. Through her customized marketing and brand identity packages, Erin helps her clients discover their brand differentiators, then designs logos, business cards, and other marketing materials and websites to reflect that differentiation, as well as to increase credibility and memorability.