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How To Make Complex Ideas Simple Through Visual Design

Dec 16, 2021

Maureen Ballatori is the Founder + CEO of  29 Design Studio Branding Marketing , an agency specializing in food, beverage and agriculture.

Graphic designer drawing sketches logo design.

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In business, if you want to make complex ideas simple and understandable, sometimes you need to pull out the whole toolbox. People learn and emotionally connect in different ways. That’s true in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer branding and marketing, as well as product design. 

At the heart of the matter, using visuals is one of the most powerful ways humans connect. Since the drawings on cave walls, we have used art to communicate ideas. (We have just gotten a bit more sophisticated with gifs, animation and 3D.)

In my experience as the founder and CEO of a creative agency, messaging works best with engaging and relevant photos, videos, infographics and other graphic elements. An image really is worth a thousand words, and no place is that more apparent than in brands.

Images establish a brand.

Quickly understanding what a brand stands for can be challenging. You only have a second to convey a message, and you need it to be memorable. Just think of the white polar bear that represents the cold and refreshing taste of Coca-Cola. I remember attending a hot air balloon festival where a blimp promoting the brand didn’t even have to display the name of the company when it took to the sky. The white polar bears on the balloon had become so connected to the soft drink that nobody needed to see the brand name. The list of memorable brand animals goes on and on: Smokey Bear, the Budweiser Clydesdales, Tony the Tiger, the Geico gecko.

We all know that brands tell stories. So, how do you use memorable images that resonate with an audience? Here are a few tips:

• Select photography that feels authentic. People don’t relate to images that look too posed.

• Keep graphics simple. Don’t clutter up a visual by trying to tell everything all at once. 

• Treat visuals as an asset. Create an asset library for your company with photography, graphics and video you can easily access to promote your brand.  

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Visuals drive written and spoken content.

Even with the importance of visuals, many companies develop a content strategy made up of the written word in posts, blogs and articles. Often, the more technical a product, the more is written about it. But visuals are important because they can help written or spoken content become more impactful overall.

That means well-written content still needs to include graphics, pictures and videos. You can consider using infographics, for example, to present data and points of view. Sharing photos of real customers using your products (instead of stock images) connects people to your brand as well.  

You can also incorporate videos alongside written or spoken content. Videos are quickly becoming the preferred type of explanatory content. While you’re explaining complex ideas with video, consider the balance of written or spoken word and visual design. Visual storytelling can help consumers connect more deeply with your brand, even without words. Chipotle's "Back to the Start" commercial is a perfect example of an ad that resonated with its audience, despite the only words being the lyrics of the song playing throughout.

Visual design makes a logo.

There is no place where visual design plays a greater role than in the creation of a logo. Companies spend large percentages of their marketing budgets getting their logos out.

Consider Apple in the beginning: How startling was it to see a computer company use a bitten apple as its logo? No technology business was doing that in 1976 when the company was founded. There are lots of stories about how Apple’s logo came to be, and most are considered myths. According to CNN, some say it was to honor Alan Turing, whose research laid the basis for the computer and who died after taking a bite from an apple laced with cyanide. Others have speculated that it represented knowledge from the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Some have even suggested the logo symbolized the apple that led Sir Isaac Newton to the idea of gravity, CNN also said.

So, what did Rob Janoff, the designer of the logo, finally say about its origin? He received no creative brief from Steve Jobs and landed on an apple to show Apple computers are "easy and fun to be around," according to one Forbes contributor who interviewed Janoff. The bite in the apple was so that it would not be confused for another piece of fruit. Later, he learned of computer “bytes,” but that had nothing to do with the design, he said. Makes for a great story, doesn’t it?  

The point is, a great logo should have a story and a strategy (even if the customer doesn't know what that story is yet). Here are some tips if you are just getting started with logo creation:

• Design to your audience. What appeals to them emotionally? What do they care about? 

• Align the logo with your business, not only for today but also in the future. Don’t be too limiting because once you decide on a logo, you will generally want to keep it for a long time unless there are major changes in your company.

• Do a competitive assessment. You do not want a logo that looks like your competitor or even too close to other prominent logos currently being used in other markets. Try a Google reverse image search to see what else is out there with a similar look.

• Make it memorable. Will people recall your business when they see your logo? One way to get an answer is to do some quick focus group testing before you finalize.

• Make sure your logo works in multiple ways. How does your logo translate on promotional materials and sales collateral? What does it look like on social media? Is it effective in small and large formats?

These are all important questions to answer to get the maximum use of this vital asset to your business growth.

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