A wide spectrum of attributes spans the chasm between boredom and chaos. In one direction are restraint, structure, rhythm, pattern, and comfort. In the other, you’ll find highlights, cleverness, creativity, surprise, and capriciousness. Somewhere in the middle is where you might find “good design.” Don’t underestimate the risks at either extreme.
Inspired by the clever use of variation by media companies such as the music video network MTV, more and more organizations want to change things up with their graphic identities. Logos can be flexible as long as the message is consistent—and consistently recognizable to its intended audience.
Information drives the built-in flexibility within the Language Institute of Central Oregon mark, which uses different colors and icons to signify the organization’s different divisions. With the Ringling College of Art and Design, on the other hand, the variations provide little more than decorative interest. In both cases, the ability to change things up provides one of the more distinguishing characteristics of the marks. If more signals were used to vary these marks, however, would you know where to look?
Effective identity programs require enough consistency to be identifiable, but enough variation to keep things fresh and human.
Programs should be designed to not only accommodate variation, but also to carefully orchestrate where variations take place. Whether they highlight certain features or information, variations are an integral part of the program, not an anomaly outside of it. Too often, organizations scrap identity programs because they don’t include enough built-in variation.
On the other hand, identity programs that accommodate too much variation create their own problems. If you highlight every line of every page in a book, you haven’t actually created a single highlight. In fact, if you skipped highlighting one line of one page, that would be a highlight.
Consistency will always set the standard, but the variations of any program typically will become its standout features.
Brands that Surprise
Some people don’t like surprises. Others can’t get enough. Similarly, surprise plays a major role in some brand identities, while others do not tolerate much of it.
You may not wish to find a surprise on your bank statement, but you’d be disappointed if you didn’t find a few in a fashion magazine. No customers want things to be boring, which is where absolute consistency with no variation can lead. People like pattern, routine, clubs, affinity groups, etc., but in the words of Aphra Behn, “Variety is the soul of pleasure.”
Consider what role surprise can play in any brand identity you help build