A brand’s visual identity should last 5-10 years. Yes, years, so it needs to outlast short-lived trends. And while trends can offer inspiration when creating a visual identity, they should never become a crutch or overpower what your brand is at its core. Instead, brands should let their brand strategy guide their visual identity, while relying on design principles from a current design movement.
Before we go further, let’s get a few things straight.
A trend is something that capitalizes on what’s popular at any given time. A design movement is a prevailing mindset and approach pursued by a group for a period of time. Design principles are guidelines for creating superior, more consistent experiences for users, typically informed by a brand strategy—which is a company’s blueprints for decision-making based on its purpose and the value it provides.
These elements can have a push and pull relationship when creating a visual identity. Even though visual identity isn’t just a logo, you can see this interaction more clearly in a company’s logo evolution. Take LEGO for example. Having been around since 1932, it’s kept true to its main message and intent, while evolving with the shifting landscape.
When it first started, LEGO manufactured wooden toys. The first round of logos for this mass-produced product were made to feel more sophisticated and handcrafted, reflecting principles from the Art Deco movement. It wasn’t until the 1950’s with the revival of consumerism that several new logos were made (many existing simultaneously). It’s at this time we see the emergence of the bubbled letterforms we so nostalgically recognize today. The youthful and upbeat type was most likely influenced by the Pop Art movement and trends of that era. But, more importantly, this move properly positioned the LEGO brand to evoke the friendliness and energy its stakeholders have always connected with.
From this point on, the LEGO mission of inspiring and developing the minds of young children really took hold. LEGO has kept true to that form with refinements and alterations through the years. For instance, the introduction of personal computers led to compacting the logo’s letters closer together to better adapt to emerging principles of the digital era. And all these changes came from shifts in the company’s market, design movements, trends, and technology. So, it’s healthy for a visual identity to evolve with its environment, but it should hold true to its core—staying the same, but always evolving.
Despite LEGO’s strength as a brand, it’s probably due for another update soon as it expands its universe into movies, video games and digital experiences. Design today is overall moving into human-centric virtual experiences, a new frontier for a company known for its physical products. But evolving your visual identity is a signal of change within your company, and LEGO has an opportunity to show its evolution externally. LEGO has transformed so much that its visual experience needs to catch up to better embody that transformation.
Monica Janelli is a senior brand designer at Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.