Everything about a business sends a message: the type of customer service provided, product quality and of course, the branding. Every activity—or lack of activity—sends some kind of message to the world.

The question is, what message does the branding send? For that matter, what message is coming from any of the graphic design projects completed for a company, be it printed marketing material, logo design or social media icons?

It’s easy to assume that the actual words used with a design, from the company name on the logo to the advertising message on a rack card, are the only message. Every component in a piece of design sends a message, including the typography, color usage and graphic icons. These messages can be both intentional and unintentional. It’s important for the intended message to be effectively conveyed, but it’s equally important to make sure that unintentional or subconscious messages do not override or somehow damage the primary message.

Fedex Logo

One of the most well-known messages found in corporate branding is the arrow in the FedEx logo. If you’ve not seen it, look at the forward-moving arrow created by the E and X in “ex.” All messages that are generated by a logo should work together towards the same goal. (image courtesy of Flickr user adactio)

In an overall sense, a good design should never:
• Be overly complicated
• Have a message that is too vague
• Incorporate ideas that don’t accurately complement each other

Beyond those over-arching ideas, there are questions each business owner should ask themselves when asked to approve a graphic design piece to represent the company.

What does my typography say?

As a point of clarification, when talking about typography, think “font” or “typeface.” Typography choice is a powerful message tool. The right font choice will empower a message just as the wrong choice will distract from the message.

Questions to keep in mind include:
How will this be used? Typically, serif fonts (the ones with the small projecting features on the edges of the letters) are generally easier to read in print materials and sans serif (without the small projecting features) is easier to read on the web. Also keep in mind if the message is to inform or is a strong call to action. Take a look at the typeface used in a news article and compare it to the typeface used in an advertisement. Two different purposes, two different typefaces.

What emotions should the reader feel? That question isn’t about telling people how to feel, it’s about anticipating what people will feel, and using the right typography choices to evoke that response. Is a sense of urgency desired, or is it calm? For example, the same font that is used for graphic design piece about harsh cleaning agents would not be used to sell baby products.


What historical or cultural references might be seen in the color choice? In some cultures, white is used to mean purity while in others, it represents mourning. What might be “dark red” in most areas, is “Razorback red” here in Northwest Arkansas (or anywhere else in the state!). Choosing colors that will generate the desired response in the company’s target audience is vital to having a successful piece of graphic design. In the United States, for example, the colors red, white and blue are used to represent patriotism and American values. Using those colors for anything else will send the wrong message and might even irritate the audience.

What about emotional response again? Color has always been known for its emotional appeal. Green usually is calming or represents growth. Red is always a vibrant color and in some forms, it represents anger or danger but in others it brings thoughts of joy and celebration.

Graphic icons

Is the image too close to something that is already copyrighted? Then don’t use it. Though similarities in design will occur, too closely mimicking a well-recognized copyrighted logo can actually harm the reputation of your business. It’s always best to be original. Period.
What mental image comes to mind with the icon? The picture or graphic element may be of zoo animals, but if it makes people think of political parties (donkey or elephant) and that’s not the desired effect, then something else should be used, or at the very least a very different illustration of such animals so that the mental connection is not made.
Does the graphic icon and typography used together to create the logo speak the same language?
Essentially, when looking at the typography and the graphic icons, is the message being communicated the same or conflicting?

Need help?

The Belford Group is an experienced image-building marketing and website development agency, with more than a decade spent providing creative marketing and advertising solutions to fit any budget …and any medium.
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