Wanderbrand: Discovering your neighborhood visual system

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Video by Miles Seiden and Alexander Gilliam

When you think of your neighborhood, what gives it its sense of place? Is it a welcoming street sign? The ivy in the alleyways? The pink-jerseyed jogger? Or the smell of fresh bread from the corner bakery?

It’s probably a little of all of these—the sensory details that form place-making memories. Collective perceptions that shape your experiences, those of your friends and family, and those of visitors just passing through.

Now imagine a new business moving into your neighborhood. How does it fit visually with everything around it while highlighting the unique qualities of its products and services?

Enter the visual system. As a concert of coordinated elements, it has often been referred to as the kit of parts from which brand identities are made.

While most people are familiar with logos, they often miss those other elements that do the visual grunt work—the graphic motif, color palette, type and imagery. These elements must all work with the logo and each other if a brand is to communicate with purpose.

Let’s see how these elements work together on a basic level.

Logo
Often the anchor of design layouts, the logo is a brand’s stronghold, the go-to identifier. The trick is in knowing when to have the logo lead and when to have it play a softer role, like an endorsement. And, of course, giving it the proper respect.

Graphic motif
Sometimes a pattern, sometimes a set of icons and sometimes a simple visual device, graphic motifs are the logo’s biggest allies. They complement and extend its graphic language across different media, and can play a variety of functional roles, including organizing layouts and carving out holding shapes for copy.

Color
Not too many companies can lay claim to a color quite like UPS does with brown. But a well-considered palette does wonders for a brand identity, especially in sectors that have a dominant chromatic scheme. Color can help define type hierarchy, integrate imagery and allude to the logo.

Type
Some say that good typography is the deciding factor between good and bad design. In a visual system, the appropriate selection and use of a type family—or the creation of one—enhances the personality of the brand while fulfilling the traditional roles that type plays. Like increasing legibility, in the best-case scenario.

Imagery
Setting an imagery style is key to creating an accurate impression of a brand. The more authentic the images are, the clearer the brand’s messages come across. While some styles are fairly subtle to the viewer, others create whole worlds that convey a particular lifestyle.

With these elements in mind, we ventured outside the office to see what we could make of the visual system happening in our own neighborhood—Westwood. Check out our outing in the video above, then try it in your own neighborhood. Just as we discovered, you’ll see that the clearer and more unified the visual elements, the stronger the sense of place.

Miles Seiden is a senior designer in the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.

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