A recent trend is seeing some brands simplify their visual identities. We’ve noticed a few organisations – both in New Zealand and overseas – paring back logos, textures and shapes, and switching to more generic colours and fonts.

McDonald’s recent redesign is a case in point.

McDonalds BA

Now, while branding is, in many ways, about teasing ‘the simple’ from ‘the complex’, with regard to your visual brand, you can take it too far.

How brand identities work

Your brand identity is the outward expression of your brand. It’s what comes to mind when people see or hear your name. And what makes you different from your competitors.

Your visual assets are integral to shaping this identity. They connect your brand name to every message or image you use in your marketing – whether on your TVCs, annual report, adshels, office or cars – adding to the collected memories people have of your brand.

Even when your logo or brand name isn’t visible, other assets such as typeface, colours and shape will help remind people of your brand – wedging it firmly into their implicit memories (the autopilot that works overtime in our brains).

Why simplify?

Simple design has its place. You may decide to simplify your visual identity if:

  • Your brand assets are overly-ornate, and in danger of distracting people from what you want to say.
  • You’re worried about your brand looking outdated – simple designs are often more timeless.
  • You’re struggling to be consistent – the fewer design elements you have to choose from, the more likely you are to use them correctly, and without fail.
  • Your design elements are making print and production expensive.
  • Your visual identity doesn’t reproduce well in different settings (e.g. in presentations or on the Web) or is of a poor-quality when it’s small.

Taking it too far

Go too simple – say, by using too common a typeface or generic a colour – and you may find it hard to express your unique point of difference. Your artwork may err on being bland or unremarkable, or may be barely distinguishable with that of other brands.

Bear in mind

Before subtracting from your visual brand, it’s worth asking:

  • Does the way you present your brand belong to you and you alone?
  • Are you discounting your brand’s history? Remember, it’s much easier to build on existing memories, than to create new ones.
  • Do you understand which of your brand assets your audiences respond to? For example, is there a design element (e.g. a pattern or shape) that they particularly associate with your brand?
  • Do you have a good reason for simplifying? Or is your motivation simply to look on trend?
  • Are you thinking long-term? Campaigns and messages come and go but, to build lasting memories, your visual identity must largely stay the same