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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. [Content Care Oct/26/2016]

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 Link

A well-proportioned, clean font can make all the difference on a website or even a corporate flyer. Good typography2 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 Typeface
Helvetica Typeface
Helvetica Typeface

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 Link

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 Screenshots
Adobe InDesign CS4 Website Screenshots
Microsoft Website Screenshots

Research conducted by the Institute of Color Research 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 COLOURlovers6, 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 Link

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 Link

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 Screenshots
BBC Website Screenshots
Adobe Illustrator CS4 Website Screenshots
Ford Motors Website Screenshots

And not quite so memorable designs:

HP Website Screenshots
Bank of America Website Screenshots

6. Community Link

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 Link

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 iPhone
Waiting for the iPhone

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.com11 and AppleInsider.com12.

Footnotes Link

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  4. 4 /2008/03//60-brilliant-typefaces-for-corporate-design/
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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

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    October 6, 2008 2:09 pm

    Please respect Smashing Magazine and our Smashing community. If you comment on the post, post your ideas, remarks or suggestions. All comments with “first”, “second”, “third” etc. will be marked as spam and removed.

  2. 2

    I 100% totally agree on the Quality one and especially the Font one. But it’s a shame that loads of people (and designers) disagree on that… or are AFRAID to go for that (font) :(

    About the logo:
    Once the logo is well known, it is not directly ‘good’. Those 3 logos are promoted with millions, maybe billions of money, that’s why we remember their names.

    • 3

      I don’t think he was saying that. I think he meant that the stylized iconic logo is a blank slate that the corporation then places its branding onto. Yes it should speak the company but being less detailed and specific it allows for developing branding as well. Did I make any sense there?

  3. 4

    Very interesting post, however it’s a shame you didn’t elaborate more on the “Quality” aspect. It can be subjective but there are some guidelines today that determine general “quality” level for a website.
    I do agree with typography being very important, especially when branding, the older fonts seems to be the best most of the times as they are far more “readable” and wont go out of fashion after 10 years.

  4. 5

    5. Quality ??

    Fun is a noun, not an adjective. It cannot have comparative or superlative forms.
    “Funnest” and “Funner” are just abominations. Is this form of illiteracy meant to be cute? Appealing?

    • 6

      If you check that in most modern dictionaries you will find that funner and funnest are indeed under fun as an adjective specified as informal. Language is a constantly evolving thing, whether you like it or not. This isn’t the first time informal language was used in advertising and I promise you it won’t be the last.

      Nice try though…

  5. 7

    Sorry to be particular (nice article, though!) but I agree with Doug117. Funner and funnest don’t translate to “cute” for me — illiterate is more like it. :S

    • 8

      Yes I caught that too. meant to appeal to a very young crowd? Remind us of very small childhoods?

  6. 9

    A web designer/development shouldn’t write about Corporate Design just as a branding expert/communication designer shouldn’t write about Web Design.

    One of the few low quality posts at SM.

  7. 11

    Another article stating the obvious. A nice although brief summery that may help a student considering becoming a designer. Perhaps we should mention that Apple were caught populating an iLine with actors to hype up their product. Thanks for contributing anyway.

  8. 12

    While I always appreciate a post that isn’t simply a compilation of other people’s designs, I felt this post largely didn’t explore the topic at hand. “Quality” is nothing more than a handful of screenshots saying “this is quality,” but doesn’t explore why. Beveled corners? Gradients? These are the overused style elements we designers declared deceased in 2007. Just as wanting is the exploration in “Community,” which is paper-thin. The only example it gave was that there’s a community of people who like Apple products, but it’s never made explicit how that relates back to Corporate Design – the topic the article was supposed to talk about. There are several other instances where this felt thrown together.

    I appreciate the free articles Smashing, but this is one of the few articles where I felt like it cost me more time than it was worth.

    • 13

      I was a bit confused by the differences between the ‘quality’ shots and the ‘not so memorable’ Besides fewer colors and more text I didn’t see that big a difference. Is there something I missed?

  9. 14

    Cute :)

    I think the author kind of mixed up Corporate Design and Corporate Identity – well, the border between may be smooth, but a CD does not define by logo, color & Helvetica – I wish it was that easy ;)
    The rest of it are parts, and I have to emphasize – only parts! of the CI. Insofar I would absolutely agree with Alfons.

  10. 15

    While I agree that Apple has done a tremendous job developing a following with specific, functional products, I’d call it a stretch to say that they are an example of creating a community. In fact, one reason Apple fell behind Microsoft in the early days of the personal computer revolution was Microsoft was far more transparent in reaching out to developers to create third-party applications. To this day (speaking from personal experience here) Macintosh developer documentation is still spotty at best- Microsoft Developer Network is a tremendous resource for all level of programmers. Apple creates mystique and intrigue around their products, and is notoriously tight lipped before and after product releases. A community has grown up around 1 Infinite Loop, but seemingly in spite of Apple.

  11. 16

    “If a company is a little conservative, then it should use serif typefaces, such as Times New Roman: these typefaces reflect classical designs.”

    Oh my. Such a bad advice stated so definitively. How do you define conservative? Almost every business (corporate) is conservative by the nature of it being a business. They want control over their appearance and public image.

    Times New Roman… there are much better serif typefaces out there… really, anything else.

  12. 17

    I’m with Silos, what an incredibly over-simplified explanation of typeface choices. Plus it’s almost suggesting “Pick Helvetica!! You’ll be successful!!”. Tip – as great as the documentary was, there are other typefaces.

  13. 18

    How can you miss National Geographic?

  14. 20

    Somewhat surprised GE wasn’t mentioned in this article…

  15. 21

    Best article for weeks. I’m really impressed.

  16. 22

    Interesting as usual, but “MPC Corp Guidelines (PDF)” not found ?!?

  17. 23

    Leon Paternoster

    October 6, 2008 10:22 pm

    A good read. These could be applied to any website, of course. I like the central premise. Design isn’t graphical at all – it’s all about decision and structure.

    Some of the linked–to research is a bit dubious: I’m sure the Institute of Colour did find that colour is very important!

    Also, an explanation of why some websites are ‘quality’ would have helped: I grudgingly accept that the Apple website does exude it, but the BBC has a pig’s ear of a front page (a better example would be BBC News, where the fantastic content really is allowed to shine through). I also rather like the HP site: it’s pretty easy to use.

  18. 24

    great post! i’m trying to design more corporate sites with strong branding for a client of mine – TIM – what do you guys think? Look at the 4 sites on the top nav and do you think they all tie it well together?

  19. 25

    Bruno Byington

    October 6, 2008 11:38 pm

    Good Morning,

    I assume that when you build up a company where you are offering services and have your customers, the points that György he has to make perfect sense.

    I didnt like the article that much since it didnt really ask itself that much “but what if….”. György, you cleary did give a nice summary of what should get appreciated when just building a company from scratch. A community for example is really important if there is a large cooperation that sells products. But then again, I would predict that Microsoft really neglected customers. Microsoft just dealt with the monopoly game as they have been doing for years. Apple just revolutionized their products so that we as customers have the “fuckiing sweet” reaction and do want to know more about.

    I didnt like the article that much again because it superficially described the formulae for success of a company. Design and some more design in every aspect + community.

    have a beautiful day.


  20. 26

    “A web designer/development shouldn’t write about Corporate Design just as a branding expert/communication designer shouldn’t write about Web Design.

    One of the few low quality posts at SM.”

    As a graphic designer. I think it’s important for web designers to get their heads around corporate identity. Nowadays if you can’t brand a company and follow that branding through all online and offline media; you aren’t doing your job properly. At the very least, if you are branding a company, the brand guidelines you set should explain, in depth, the typefaces, colours and corporate message for any potential website. If you think a communication designer and a web designer are two different entitys then you, and your clients both have a big problem.

    Great post Smashing.


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