Corporate Design—Cultivating an Aesthetic for Stronger Brand Recognition
Updated · Mar 04, 2023
A big part of branding is having something visually “distinct” about your business.
If we mention a yellow “M” with soft curves or the outline of a cartoon mouse’s head, you likely know what brands we’re referring to.
It goes beyond one “thing” however. In order to create a distinct aesthetic, a number of elements are needed.
With that in mind, let’s dive into corporate-focused design, and see what it can do for your business.
What Is Corporate Design?
Corporate design is a creative process focused on businesses and brand building. Strong branding is a critical aspect of any business, but it is especially important for businesses that rely on customer-facing interactions.
After all, first impressions matter, and good design can make all the difference when it comes to winning over new customers.
That's why more and more companies are investing in this type of design: a strategic approach that takes into account the company's overall objectives and brand identity.
What Are the Benefits of Corporate Brand Design?
When done well, quality image design can benefit businesses in a number of ways.
It can even play a role in conversion rate optimization.
A signature look allows companies to distinguish themselves from the competition.
It also allows them to create a “shorthand” through which to remind customers of their existence.
Again, think of the “Golden Arches” or the simple silhouette of the mouse.
Proper corporate design grants companies a template to promote brand consistency.
Individual artists differ in style.
With a tightly structured design plan, companies can give artists and teams something to work with to keep everything consistent.
Of course, the baseline benefit, and aim, should be an aesthetic appeal. A design plan should focus on making the brand look appealing to customers.
If the design is pleasing, it’ll allow a brand to occupy “mental real estate” and foster positive brand association, even on a subliminal level.
How to Get Started on an Identity Design Plan
Where to begin?
Well, aside from being a signature, promoting brand consistency, and being pleasing, a good design must articulate what a company does, what its aims are, and what values it promotes.
Now that seems like a lot to take in, so let’s break it down.
This is an intersection of art and business.
Therefore you will need to consider both the abstract and the concrete.
What Do You Do?
First off you need to take stock of what your business does.
Do you sell potted plants?
Do you sell car parts?
It is important for the corporate design to be consistent not just across your business but with its core function.
A potted plant business isn’t going to incorporate bright reds and angular shapes into its design, but a car part seller might.
You need to focus on what’s logical for your business.
Take a look at other businesses in your industry. You’ll be able to pick up on trends you can follow, not copy.
Later on, we’ll talk about the pitfall of being swept away by trends.
Figure Out What Makes Your Business Unique
Next, you want to consider what makes your business unique.
This will be central to your corporate identity. Center on a product unique to you or even on where your business began.
If you’re based away from your home territory, incorporating design elements such as language or national colors can help give you a more distinct feel.
What are Your Aims?
Remember to focus on your aims.
This also influences design.
A sales-based business selling physical products might opt for a high-energy design that encourages spur-of-the-moment purchases.
On the other hand, a SaaS business might go for a more laid-back corporate aesthetic that gives prospective clients the impression that their solution is something comfortable that can be settled into for long periods.
There are a number of online design tools that can assist you in clarifying the image.
Pick Design Elements
With those considerations in mind, you’ll need to select your basic corporate graphic design elements.
Choose the colors you want to make up your branding.
Two or three primary colors are a good bet. Just think of Facebook’s distinct shade of blue, or Instagram's mix of pinks and purple, offset with a hint of yellow.
Color has a way bigger effect on marketing than you may realize.
Next up is fonts.
There are many fonts out there, so you’ll have to take the time to pick something that’s readable and in line with your business.
When in doubt, it’s better to go for something down to Earth, rather than a wacky font that may put people off.
Finally, your corporate design choice will need some symbols that’ll easily indicate what you’re about.
You can get a little more “out there” but you need to keep it simple.
The initials of your company in an interesting shape, a landmark, or even an animal are all safe bets.
Think About How It’ll Be Applied
You have to keep in mind how this design will be applied.
Is your business purely web-based, or do you have brick-and-mortar storefronts that can incorporate the design into the interior?
What about merchandising? All of these will influence what design set you end up using.
It’s important to keep up with current corporate art style trends, but that doesn’t mean losing sight of your own identity.
Instead, it means you should take the time to understand the current trends and figure out how to make them work for you.
So, what’s current?
That’s an interesting story…
“The” Corporate Art Style
The current style popular in ecommerce, and tech more broadly, is characterized by:
- Flat imagery
- Primary colors,
- Figures that are often ambiguous in terms of ethnicity, and sometimes gender
Here’s an example. If you’ve spent anytime online, you’ll likely recognize the style.
This was made in a program called Humaaans.
What Is It?
This style of art is commonly referred to as “Corporate Memphis”. It’s also called “big tech art”, “corporate art”, “globohomo” (global homogenization), and by a number of other terms.
Facebook takes credit for kicking off the trend, with its “Algeria” art style commissioned in 2017. All the same, the broader trend of “flat” design began with Apple’s release of iOS 7 in 2013.
It’s incorrect, however, to think of it as one style.
It’s actually a group of styles, and each company adapts it for itself.
Some companies go for disproportionate purple figures with gaping smiles, while others opt for more realistic proportions and human skin tones.
Why Is It Big Now?
It seems as if nearly every tech and ecommerce company has embraced this style. The reasons for doing so are practical.
This corporate minimalist art style contains designs that are “simple” meaning they can be put together quickly, and learned by artists who don’t have experience with a particular company’s house style.
They’re also easy to scale, so they can be displayed properly on various screen sizes. This makes it easy to use across mobile and desktop platforms.
Pieces of this art are often criticized for having weak compositions, but this is by design.
It lets company designers easily break up elements, like cartoon figures, and reuse them in new ways.
That’s all to say that most iterations of this style are cheap and fast to work with.
Why Do So Many People Seem to Hate It?
Corporate Memphis design has an abundance of critics. Coast through Twitter and you’re bound to find annoyed people asking why this style is everywhere.
We’ve already explained why it’s so big, and that’s also the reason why so many people dislike it. The trouble is saturation, and with it, a lack of “distinctness”.
While most big firms have their own version, the relative ease and accessibility of the style has led to many businesses commissioning freelancers to create more generic designs.
This means the same style is appearing everywhere.
The style is now “obviously” corporate, which means it comes off as less organic, which often prompts a negative reaction. Just look at overt viral marketing attempts.
People have also criticized this corporate minimalism for glossing over inclusivity, and erasing race with purple and blue figures, instead of making an effort to represent real differences.
How to Avoid Being Swept Away in the Crowd
The solution to this is surprisingly simple: Be authentic to your brand. Take the tips above and make a conscious effort to create a distinct design plan.
When it comes to the flat aesthetic, while a lot of what’s out there is uninspired, there are some examples of good art styles as well. Two examples are Mailchimp, and AirBnB.
What’s interesting about them is that they’ve taken opposite approaches. Mailchimp goes for outlandish cartoons with extra limbs, while AirBnB takes a grounded approach.
Both work because the companies invested time and money into creating original design plans that fit their business.
When devising a corporate design plan, companies should start by thinking about their actual business, their audience, and what they want to convey to them.
With careful planning, companies can adapt to the current trends, while still coming up with a corporate art style that’s their own.
Through this, they can cultivate a distinct aesthetic, define their brand, and attract more customers.
Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.