Visual Identity —-> Visual Ecosystem

By Campbell Butler  

We’re currently in the middle of an intense process of experimentation, creative strategy, illustration, photography, claymation, motion graphics, prototyping and crazy tech. It’s what is technically called the ‘visual identity phase’ of work but I’ve got a feeling that name isn’t quite right anymore…

I love visual identity. In my first year of uni I got a buzz designing a system of parts and I dreamt of getting my graphics on the tail of a plane like the design heroes of a different time. Back then, my starting point was always the logo. I spent serious time crafting a single compelling marque and an exciting super graphic and then applying it to stationery, signage, brochures and later websites and animations. This process works. But as the number and type of interactions we need to design for increases, the visual identity is reduced to a tiny logo on the edge of a website, with no visual relationship to the other elements.

I’ve flipped the process now. For me, it’s better to start with the touch points where the identity needs to live and look at how the entire identity can behave and respond in those environments. I try and think of all of the elements at once – grids, type, icons, backgrounds, imagery and how all of those parts can live together in a visual ecosystem.

Elements respond with interaction.

Elements relate to each other.

Elements adapt to their environment.

A living system that evolves over time. It lives and breathes and responds to people. It can be touched and dragged and sung to. I’m no longer crafting shapes but designing behaviours.

The benefit of designing in this way, is that when people interact with the brand there is an organic connection between the brand and the experience. The elements are recognisable, interactions feel alive and the experience is seamless. And when it comes to designing the logo, it basically forms itself as an obvious conclusion to an ecosystem of elements.

The name visual identity doesn’t feel quite right any more… do we need a new name?

Campbell Butler is a Design Director at Wolff Olins London.  

How design thinking finds new answers

By Campbell Butler

The other day I sat in a brainstorm with a bunch of fellow graphic designers, discussing the future direction of an international business. Someone in the team made a flippant joke about the moment: Most of us had gone to art school, not business school. 

As designers we sometimes worry about engaging in the “business side” of things. But today’s businesses are desperate to find experimental and creative solutions and designers are just the problem-solvers they need. We’ve been trained to take a brief, assess the problem, instinctively create different directions, analyse the positives and negatives, reject one, create another, see what works, see what doesn’t.

We can rapidly create visual concepts that test how products, communications, experiences and interfaces can work together. And we can test multiple directions. It allows businesses to take risks they couldn’t imagine, because they can see tangible possibilities. That, is business prototyping.

There’s an opportunity now as designers to get beneath the veneer of subjective aesthetics and establish design, and design thinking, at the heart of tomorrow’s businesses – an opportunity we should grab with both hands.

So, am I a graphic designer anymore?

Campbell Butler is a Senior Designer at Wolff Olins.

Illustration by James Kape.