7 Ingredients Of Good Corporate Design


It’s hard to define design. We have a broad range of definitions to choose from: design refers not only to graphic design, but to design strategy, too. It is used in a variety of industries, such as engineering, architecture and Web design.

This means that design is not just graphical in nature (which is a form of visual artistic representation), but also the planning of processes to achieve certain goals. Large corporations clearly understand this and incorporate every form of design into their strategy to achieve success.

For a good corporate design, we need to be aware of two main elements, which can be further broken down into a total of seven “ingredients”:

  • design, as in artistic representation (logo, typography, colors), and
  • design strategy (brand, quality, community, culture).

Popular Logos

Typically, a logo is designed for immediate recognition. Users often identify a corporation by its logo. Just look at the above images: the names of the companies should immediately pop into your head.

But a logo is only one aspect of a company’s brand strategy. It helps, of course, to differentiate a company from its competitors, but a great logo doesn’t mean anything until the brand makes it worth something. If you’re given the task of creating a logo for an organization, create an abstract image that is clean, simple and carries very little meaning until the brand of the organization adds that meaning. You can read more about the importance of logo design in Seth Godin’s article1.

2. Typography

A well-proportioned, clean font can make all the difference on a website or even a corporate flyer. Good typography creates that “There’s something about that” feeling in people’s consciousness.

One of the most successful fonts that can be seen everywhere (signs, buildings, planes, etc.) is Helvetica. This is the King Kong of typefaces, and it’s more than 50 years old. Helvetica changed the world of typography. It showed typographers and graphic designers that simple is good.

Helvetica Typeface2

Helvetica Typeface3

Helvetica Typeface4

Large corporations tend to adopt clear sans-serif typefaces. A typeface should reflect the company’s image and beliefs. If a company is a little conservative, then it should use serif typefaces, such as Times New Roman: these typefaces reflect classical designs. With the help of large typography, an organization should enhance the motto or message delivered to its users.

All website text, not just for corporate websites, should be readable. A Web designer should take into consideration the different browser rendering engines; text fonts are not displayed the same across browsers.

With large corporate websites, usability plays an increasingly large role in typography design. A company should also care about its users with disabilities who can only read with the help of a screen reader, etc. It isn’t always a good approach to embed text in images and not include <alt> tags, because screen readers can’t read the text. Sadly, the majority of large organizations are still struggling with this issue.

Also consider the following links to resources on corporate typography:

3. Colors

A graphic designer usually should be careful when designing the visual identity of a large corporation. We should take into consideration different color combinations, color meanings and color theory.

The corporate color scheme that the designer chooses makes a strong statement about the organization and how it does business. As with all of the other seven elements, colors should emphasize the philosophy and strategy of the corporation.

Xerox Website Screenshots8

Adobe InDesign CS4 Website Screenshots9

Microsoft Website Screenshots10

Research conducted by the Institute of Color Research11 reveals that all human beings make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment or item within 90 seconds and that that assessment is based on color alone. This demonstrates the important role of colors in corporate graphic design.

Enter the world of color harmony and palettes. There are lots of useful online tools for creating beautiful, appealing colors, such as COLOURlovers12, which showcases color trends and palettes.

One particular tool is interesting for the technological point of view behind it. Apparently, our brains did not evolve to see or appreciate the concentrated and saturated colors that are considered “basic colors.” Our eyes evolved to see natural and sophisticated colors that rarely clash with each other.

Consider the following links for more detailed color theory:

4. Brand

Brand is the definition of corporate business. The name of an organization can also serve as its brand. Brand value reflects how a company is perceived in the marketplace. Brand identity communicates an organization’s strategy in a universal way to target audiences.

Branding is not about getting a target market to choose one corporation over its competition, but about getting prospects to see the corporation as the only one that provides a solution to their problems.

A company should lay down brand objectives from the beginning. These are the organization’s characteristics, and they must reflect the organization’s philosophy, processes, image, etc. A strong brand builds credibility and motivates clients.

Further reading:

5. Quality

Quality is one of the most important elements. It defines a company through its policies, procedures and responsibilities to its users. A company that offers quality products or services has a great chance of bringing a user back not just once but many times over.

Quality should be reflected in every aspect of a corporation: how it does business, the kind of products or services it produces, how it handles its prospects and clients. The same is true for the corporation’s website design, too.

The following screenshots do indeed reflect quality:

Apple Computers Website Screenshots17

BBC Website Screenshots18

Adobe Illustrator CS4 Website Screenshots19

Ford Motors Website Screenshots20

And not quite so memorable designs:

HP Website Screenshots21

Allianz Website Screenshots22

Bank of America Website Screenshots23

6. Community

Many large corporations tend to neglect this aspect of their business. The first large company that recognized this important element was Apple. It created a dedicated, enthusiastic community around its products, which eventually paid off in the long run.

It’s not an easy task to form enthusiastic communities and to leverage that power. A company should always keep in mind that without quality products or services, it can’t project a positive image to its user base.

One way of forming a community is by recruiting company product evangelists. Evangelism is a form of word-of-mouth marketing in which a company nurtures customers who strongly believe in the company’s products, with the result that these customers actively promote them and try to convince others to buy and use them. These people often become the key influencers in the community, and because they’re not paid or affiliated with the company, they are perceived by others as being credible.

Let’s take Apple’s example and find out the three steps of creating a community:

  • As a first step, which is the most important one, it creates quality products that are targeted to a specific audience.
  • It encourages customers to meet and share, as is the case with iPods.
  • It focuses on specific key aspects of the product and associates them with the company’s philosophy. In Apple’s case, that aspect is a better user experience.

7. Culture

When speaking of culture, one shouldn’t take it to mean community. Culture is the tastes, manners, knowledge and values that are shared and favored by the community. If a corporation has communities formed around its products, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these communities have a healthy culture. In fact, a bad culture can ruin a company’s reputation with future prospects.

Microsoft is, sadly, a good example of bad community culture. This culture is mainly the result of the company’s policies and how it has nurtured its community. On the other hand, Apple created a relatively healthy community by enveloping its products in mystery and rumor. Think of the long lines in front of Apple stores around the US, Europe and even Asia, anxiously waiting for the iPhone. The customers even called it the iLine.

Waiting for the iPhone24

Waiting for the iPhone25

In recent years, not only have cultures formed around Apple products, but subcultures have, too. Subcultures around product rumors have resulted in many websites, such as MacRumors.com26 and AppleInsider.com27.


  1. 1 http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2007/06/logos.html
  2. 2 http://fawny.org/blog/images/GiantHelvetica_MovingVan.jpg
  3. 3 http://fawny.org/blog/images/GiantHelvetica983.jpg
  4. 4 http://www.sitestone.eu/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/newyork-subway-helvetica_450x338shkl.jpg
  5. 5 http://helveticafilm.com/
  6. 6 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/03/20/60-brilliant-typefaces-for-corporate-design/
  7. 7 http://www.emblematiq.com/blog/to_anti_alias_or_not_to_anti_alias/
  8. 8 http://www.xerox.com/
  9. 9 http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign/
  10. 10 http://www.microsoft.com
  11. 11 http://www.ccicolor.com/research.html
  12. 12 http://www.colourlovers.com/
  13. 13 http://www.worqx.com/color/
  14. 14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_theory
  15. 15 http://www.designerstalk.com/corpid/
  16. 16 http://www.mpccorp.com/about/media/styleguide_mpc.pdf
  17. 17 http://www.apple.com/
  18. 18 http://www.bbc.co.uk/
  19. 19 http://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator/
  20. 20 http://www.ford.com
  21. 21 http://www.hp.com
  22. 22 http://www.allianz.com
  23. 23 https://www.bankofamerica.com/index.jsp
  24. 24 http://flickr.com/photos/jseita/2659657425/
  25. 25 http://flickr.com/photos/veroyama/2656236842/
  26. 26 http://www.macrumors.com/
  27. 27 http://www.appleinsider.com

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György Fekete is a Web developer with 5 years of experience in Web design and development. He is the founder of Primal Skill Ltd., an established Romanian Web design and development studio.

  1. 1

    Justin Leaf-Wright

    October 8, 2008 1:30 am

    Awesome Read.
    Thanks a lot for the Article


  2. 52

    Some of the responses here are a bit harsh, in my opinion. It seems there’s no way to win. If the author had gone into more detail, some would complain it was too long and could have been summed-up much the same way it was. Then we have the comments here that say the summary isn’t enough, and there wasn’t enough meat in the post.

    I think the article was written in a way to make you stop and think about the topics. It was clearly not written to be a step-by-step tutorial, because as the author said in his follow-up comments, that would be impossible.

    The only other comment I have is that though I am a Mac user, I could do without articles such as this using Apple as an example. It’s too easy. They’re really a remarkable company that nobody out there has been able to match the success of branding of – save for perhaps Nike. Using other companies may take a little more work, but it would also serve to provoke a little more thought by the readers.

    Just my 2 cents. I liked the article though!

  3. 103

    Christopher Ross (thisismyurl.com)

    October 8, 2008 5:11 am

    Sure, some of the advice here is ‘simplistic’ but judging by a lot of the people who call themselves “designers” out there, they could learn a thing or two from this advice. Thanks for the post.


  4. 154

    Very poorly written article though it has some valid points.

    What is the objective of this piece? Are you trying to explain brand development with a heading like ‘Good Corporate Design’?

  5. 205

    Funny that the BBC example has some BIg empty area’s wich can be considered as mistakes, still you use it as a good example…

    really like this overview of important facts !

  6. 256

    I like the fact that you include the logo as a *part* of branding. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I talk to think that logo design and logo design alone is what you use to brand or re-brand a company. It is so much more than that, thanks for pointing it out!

  7. 307


  8. 358

    Good, I’m a beginer for design. I think this information help me to work!

  9. 409

    comment #32 – cracks me up…

    Did anyone see the autho’s website? how can he be talking about quality and such?

  10. 460

    As always smashing reading! I miss interaction design somewhere in the list though. A product or website can have all the right colors and materials etc. But if nobody can use it the brand will take the hit.


  11. 511

    Good article, all these ingredidients are interesting. And I agree that Quality is the most important.

  12. 562


    October 11, 2008 6:32 am

    If a company is a little conservative, then it should use serif typefaces, such as Times New Roman […] With the help of large typography, an organization should enhance the motto or message delivered to its users.
    You gotta be kidding. So basically every conservative company should adopt Times and set it in 72pt to get the message across, oh my. The rest of the article is really weak too.

  13. 613

    Thanks… really cool tips and trick.

    Gaeso admin,

  14. 664

    @ nicetype.blogspot.com: I wrote it should, not it must…

    It should choose a typeface which best describes the company’s philosophy.

  15. 715

    hopefully HP changes up their layout and design really soon because their products are of quite high quality. and also because my mom works there. lol.

  16. 766

    i build websites & this info will be very helpful. Thank you!

  17. 817

    Julievive Empasis

    October 14, 2008 7:18 pm

    i agree with the quality… quality really does matter. perfect selection of fonts for creating a corporate design is also important. With the color scheme it should be fit the brand.

    anyway… thanks for posting… it would be very helpful.

    Juricks2Web | Web Design and Development [Link]
    LazyMask | Clipping Path [Link]

  18. 868

    Excelent! Thanks again for the very well sourced information!

  19. 919


    November 11, 2008 2:03 pm

    @Gyorgy, come on, you can’t kid me, all serif typefaces look the same. Times, Baskerville, Requiem, Swift, Newzald.
    Serif doesn’t mean conservative at all, but not to understand that isn’t bad. It’s bad to spread that nonsense.

  20. 970

    Im waiting for another post about Corporate Design on Smashing Magazine. I´m sure the next one will be better

  21. 1021

    I think the only problem here is that most people think they could get educational information in internet with the same quality they could get in a university or some other place. This is not a bad topic, its just basic. Many smart brains felt pain with such simplistic solutions, and some other people just get what they wanted to get: information about design in a webpage.
    If you wanna be good just go to a university or some place, and/or work hard and study from people who´s very far from this null present space/time (yeah this is simplistic solution too!;)
    good luck

  22. 1072

    I have to address the comments about Apple being grammatically incorrect by using the word “funnest” on their Web site. This, in fact, should be under the category of Culture in this article. Apple made their advertising mark with the headline, “Think different.” which was a play on grammar since technically it should be “Think differently.” This two-word headline alone has attracted a community of people that are intelligent, witty, have a sense of humor and willing to break the rules to have a little fun.

  23. 1123

    Really nice advice here!
    Most designers need to know this before flying away their talented minds. Trying to bring more connections between business and design solutions are core part for each of the designers.

    I am learning everyday


  24. 1174

    i like the ipod because one of my favorite game is tap tap. I dont have a ipod but i played on my friends ipod.I real want one

  25. 1225

    that’s a great source

  26. 1276

    wow nice collection

  27. 1327

    wow thats a eye crashing design

  28. 1378

    Rokaiya Yeasmin Munni

    October 18, 2010 2:35 am

    Really good design inspiration.


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