GS: Logo, Identity & Brand Part 3: IDENTITY

November 3, 2010 at 9:06 pm 1 comment

Moving on with the Graphically Speaking (GS) posts about the differences between your logo, identity and brand…

Last time, we went into specifics about your logo. We discussed how 4th Leaf Design Studio divides logos into three categories to help with planning a company’s image: Typographic, Lock-Up and Crest. There is not one type of logo that is better or more effective than the next one; it’s just a matter of what logo style works best for your company to ultimately create your brand. Now we’re onto your identity…

When someone speaks about a company’s identity, what are they actually talking about?
They are referring to all those little characteristics that are unique to your company and distinguish you from your competitors. Basically, your identity encompasses all of the elements that make up the visual representation of your company: colors, typefaces, images and their usage, graphics, grids, patterns and, of course, your logo!

I really like the way the graphic design mega company, Pentagram, describes identities and identity designers:
Identities are “a unique combination of reputation, name, culture, manner and values. Identity design represents these qualities and in doing so adds something to them. The identity designer has to become intricately involved in the group in order to understand and thus influence its presented image.”

To help you understand large-scale applications of what an identity is, I’m going to walk you through a simplified explanation of the University of Cincinnati‘s Standards as the main example.


Your logo encompasses the largest portion of your identity. It dictates the rest of the images, graphics, etc. When designing your logo, your designer will be thinking of the many possible usage of your logo. There will be some instances where you will be able to use your logo in a vertical format, and at times, a horizontal layout will be best.

standard logo layout : horizontal

alternate layout : vertical

Another example of this is the logo options for the New York City Ballet:

The designer will also give you standards on how to use it. The most important one of these to be aware of is the “safe space.” A logo’s safe space is the area designated to the readability of the logo. It’s a space that surrounds the ENTIRE logo where no other images, graphics, words, etc can penetrate. This is typically some proportion of the logo:
There will also be standards on how your logo is to be used on different colors:
SIDE NOTE: your designer should ALWAYS give you a solid black and white version of your logo! If you do not like your logo in black and white, you’ll never be fully happy with it in color. Besides, you will not always be able to use full color.

A solid identity standard will also ways that your logo should NEVER be used:

You should also be aware as to the minimum size that you designer recommends for your logo. Because of the type, some logos are able to be smaller than other. In this case, the designers for UC’s logo require the printed logo to be a minimum width of one inch and the digital image to be a minimum width of 125 pixels.


One of the main reasons I wanted to show you the UC identity standards is because of how they dictate their graphics, patterns and textures. All of the swoops you see associated with the university all derive from the logo itself:

Samples of the swoops:


As you all know, your colors are just as much a part of your identity as your logo. You probably even know your company’s specific PMS (Pantone Matching System) color to be used on all your materials! If you don’t have a PMS color, your color can not be guaranteed by a printer, so be sure to get one!

True brands have their standard primary colors (which are usually the colors that make up the logo) and secondary colors at least. Secondary colors are hues the designer feels best compliment the primary colors:



Obviously, UC’s color palette is quite extensive. They need to be able to incorporate and decipher many disciplines of study, campuses, buildings, etc. Not all color palettes have to be this elaborate. Take mine at 4th leaf Design Studio:



We’ll get into the differences later! 🙂

The lettering you choose for your business is just as much a part of your identity. Think about it, if you send out one memo in Times New Roman, and another one in Arial or even Georgia, they will look like they came from totally different companies. It’s crucial to know what typefaces are associated with your company, how they are used, etc. Many companies incorporate both a sans-serif for less formal pieces and serif type for more formal announcements. When the sans-serif and serif typefaces are used together creatively, they can create extremely beautiful pieces. Here are UC’s type choices.

I know this was a lot to take in, but trust me, it was just a short explanation on what identities really are. Many companies have thick manuals explaining the elements of their identities and how to use them. Here are a few more short examples of identities courtesy of Pentagram.

Black & White Ball
Notice the grid pattern formed for their marketing material. This is part of their identity as well.

The Metropolitan Opera
Notice the red and how it’s continued into the photographs for emphasis.




Entry filed under: Graphically Speaking, Identities.

…and I’m back! Happy Birthday to Me!

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