Updating Your Visual Identity System
What do I mean when I say "visual identity system?" I mean a set of graphic design parameters that an organization follows to give all their communications a family resemblance. Normally, such a system will consist of 1) a logo or system of logos, 2) specific colors, 3) stipulated font families, and possibly 4) design templates and grids for producing brochures. Ideally such a system covers both web and print applications although many apply predominantly to print. Sometimes the systems are produced then sit on a shelf gathering dust but sometimes they actually become the rulebook for an institution's communications. Here's a PDF of one I produced several years ago for Tufts.
So the question arises – how long is one of these things good for? Or alternatively, if I produced an identity system a while ago, does it need to be refreshed or can I just stick with it?
The answer is you should refresh it. If you produced an identity system more than five years ago, you should undertake a review of the system and consider updating it to fit evolving design tools and sensibilities.
What I am not talking about here is changing your logo. That's not a refresh. That's a new identity system. You only want to do that when the previous work was inadequate or inconsistent with your current strategic goals.
But even if you think your identity system is working well and you like your logo and your colors, it's worth updating it to extend its useful life.
The main catalyst for such a review are dramatic developments over the past few years in font design and capabilities. The greatest of these is the ability, through services such as Typekit, to employ a wide range of fonts on the Web. Five or six years ago this capability did not exist, and most designers spec'ed Verdana, Georgia, Arial or similar fonts for Web applications. Today, the world of print typefaces has opened up for Web application. That doesn't mean that all of these fonts are appropriate for the Web. But it does mean that it's worth reviewing your system to see whether there are new ways to build a stronger shared identity between your print and Web communications.
There have also been enormous strides in font design over the past few years that give designers many new tools for excellence in design. Adobe, among others, has produced new font families that support corporate branding goals much more comprehensively with both serif'ed and sans-serif'ed communciations. An institution should not make a change simply for novelty's sake. Consistency of appearance is what a good identity system is all about. But if you are operating with a set of fonts that a communications firm gave you several years ago, the chances are good that there are new fonts that might give your institution a better tool kit.
While you're undertaking this review, it's worth looking at the new colors that Pantone has released to see whether any of those can support your color system.
None of this is radical, or indeed, high priority work. I worry, therefore, that most institutions won't go to the trouble However, if you want to keep your communications professional and effective, it's worth reviewing and updating your identity system from time to time – not to alter the design sensibility or intention, but to take advantage of new resources and the ways that design is evolving.