Graphic Design in Brand Inclusivity

Graphic Design in Brand Inclusivity

Inclusive brands are brands which attempt to connect to a large audience through an emotional connection. Rather than considering these brands rationally, consumers have an emotional connection to them similar to their favorite cultural icons. Examples are brands such as Nike and Google, which have moved from the rational world to the emotional world in the consumer’s mind. This emotional reaction causes consumers to pick this brand over others.

How does graphic design impact inclusive brands?

White target logo on a red background.

Graphic design is directly linked to brand identity, which is the identity of a brand as perceived by the consumer. For example, Target has emphasized the color red in all aspects of their brand, creating an immediate association between Target and the color red. Color has been tied to brand identity through intense repetition. This Target red is repeated throughout their stores, from the carts, to the concrete balls, to the bags, the aisle signs, the walls, the checkout lines, and their savings app. This color consistency creates a feeling of reliability and familiarity between the consumer and the brand, because the consumer knows what to expect from Target.

As well as establishing a clear brand identity through color, Target carefully considered the design of their storefronts. Target used to take a universal approach to the idea of inclusivity when designing their stores. They wanted all of their stores to look and feel the same, so that a customer would feel a familiarity any time they walked into a Target. The storefronts all looked relatively similar, with a big neon Target sign, and similar layouts. They wanted to communicate inclusivity through affordability, so the design of these stores reflected the aesthetics of an affordable, universal model. However, Target has recently begun to update its idea of inclusivity through design, by creating a variety in their newer storefronts. These new stores are catered towards the aesthetics of the community, while still fitting within the Target brand. New stores opened in Houston and New York are both recognizable as Target stores, but look quite different from each other because they reflect the aesthetics of their location (Target Corporate). Additionally, Target plans to start opening small stores which are suited to the needs of urban neighborhoods and college campuses. Due to the smaller size, these stores will have a different design, which is catered towards the most important aspect of a Target. Since the brand is so iconic and recognizable through its use of visual repetition of color, Target has the flexibility to be inclusive through recognizing differences, rather than through a one size fits all model.

Increasing inclusivity through updates

One of the greatest challenges when designing for a brand is updating the brand, without damaging the brand identity. Brands need to update in order to evolve and increase inclusivity. For example, the trend recently has been for brands to change their logos to sans serif type in an attempt to accommodate various screen sizes and resolutions. According to designer Jon Tarr, a simpler design translates much better when the size is reduced than a complex design, which becomes indiscernible in a smaller size. Thus, the trend has been to update brands to simplified logos. This can help promote inclusivity, making the design more legible, and therefore more accessible. However, updates such as these logos must be carefully considered, so that the recognizable aesthetics of the brand, which tie into its identity, are not lost.

Old serif google logo next to the new sans serif google logo

One example of a successful logo redesign is Google, who switched their logo from serif to sans serif type. This was a necessary move in order to increase inclusivity of the brand, the old logo would not have translated well to the expansion of the company. Google no longer existed in just the format of the recognizable search bar, the brand needed to translate to apps, wearable devices, voice technology, ect. All of these were expansions that promote inclusivity, and the design needed to mirror that. Changing the type was a dangerous move for the brand, because their logo was so recognizable, so updating it could have caused a consumer distrust. However, designers approached this redesign carefully and gradually, first flattening the logo, then switching to a sans serif type called product sans, which was designed specifically for Google to use across its branding (Google Design). Additionally, this update was translated to other visual elements, such as the chrome logo, which is a spin off of the original logo, the loading dots, which are an interactive element, and the G, which can operate as a scaled down version of the logo. By carrying out this process in stages, the aesthetic of the company changed gradually, rather than all at once, which gave users time to adjust to each update.

Four colors (blue, red, yellow, and green) of the google brand.

But what really made this update successful is Google’s reliance on its four distinct colors to carry the brand. Color is the first reaction we have to a brand, and the most visceral reaction. The most drastic change that can be made to a brand is a change in color, so any color change should be used with caution. When considering this redesign, Google distilled the brand down to these four colors, and kept them constant, using them as a template to build from. By keeping the colors consistent, the brand stayed the same on the most visceral level. In terms of the type, the designers kept the playful nature of the old logo, with the rotated e, and the open counter forms, but became more legible and flexible, to fit the new needs of the brand. Overall, by sticking to the core visual identity of the brand, Google was able to pull off a successful, comprehensive redesign of their entire system.

New sears logo. Sans serif type on a dark blue background.

However, not all brands were successful in updating to a more inclusive model, while preserving brand identity. One example of a failed redesign is the new Sears logo, a redesign from a unique font to a normative sans serif, with a new logo which was criticized for being too similar to AirBnb. Whilst this similarity was accidental, the logo redesign was probably an unwise move to begin with. According to a CNBC article, Sears had filed for bankruptcy in 2018, and was making a drastic attempt to rebrand itself in hopes of updating its image (Lavietes). However, the new design was a complete abandonment of the previous logo, and the result was a complete disconnect between the brand identity of Sears and the generic imagery of the new logo. If Sears felt it was necessary to update their brand, they should have taken elements from the old logo so as not to damage the brand identity. Or at the very least, the new design could have been gradually introduced in stages, such as Google did with its rebranding. As designer Brian Collins put it, when updating the aesthetics of an established brand, it is important to “first do no harm” (Wohl).

Works cited

“A Bullseye View. Behind the Scenes at Target.” Target Corporate, https://corporate.target.com/press/releases/2017/03/target-reveals-design-elements-of-next-generation.

“Evolving the Google Identity – Library.” Google Design, https://design.google/library/evolving-google-identity/.

“This New Target Shows How We’re Thinking Differently About Store Design.” Target Corporate, https://corporate.target.com/article/2019/10/store-design.

Lavietes, Matt. “Sears Wanted Its New Logo to Make People Think of Home and Heart, Instead Some Are Thinking about Airbnb.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 May 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/08/sears-unveils-a-new-logo-as-it-tries-to-boost-its-business.html.

Tarr, Jon. “How To Prepare Your Logo For Responsive Design Systems.” Smashing Magazine, 14 Apr. 2016, https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/04/logo-design-responsive-websites/.

Wohl, Jessica. “LOGO LOGIC: WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE UPDATING YOUR BRAND’S VISUAL LOOK.” Advertising Age 90.11 (2019): 14. ProQuest. Web. 17 Nov. 2019.

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