Visual Brand Language is just like any other language, in that it is supposed to facilitate better communication. There are divergences between the VBL of a brand and, say, French though. Languages are the result of many years of psychosocial and cultural factors, and less the result of managed, top-down decisions (despite the best measures of ‘purity’ organisations like the Académie française). VBL, however, flips the formula on it’s head. Compound psychosocial and cultural factors have less of an impact than the decisions of a marketing and design team. Managed, conscious decisions are precisely what drives VBL and makes it a success, or otherwise. So, unlike the byzantine, time-whittled grace of actual language, the decision makers have to choose what is best for the brand and not let it simply happen.


If visual language creation sounds important for a brand, that is because it is. Just like language can betray the values of a country, VBL goes a long way toward indicating what matters most to a brand.


VBL represents the design qualities and elements of a brand that serve to represent it. They are consistent across the brand (and usually across products), helping the customer to recognise and identify the brand with the minimum of effort. This is non-verbal design, so it will work before any verbal communication gets a look in (in the way that a logo works long before a slogan does). Successful VBL should help the customer identify the brand with or without the logo, it should be written into the fabric of the products and services, helping it to provide a unique set of elements that represent the unique characteristics and values of a brand. A visual DNA to communicate, in a moment, the personality of the brand.


Think of the BMW kidney grille for a classic example of effective visual brand language. It talks to the audience before almost any other design element – and in a moment lets the audience know what the brand of car is, reassuring of its place in history and of the traditions of the brand. The continuity of the design of the grille indicates an authenticity and history that most manufacturers cannot compete with, but (unlike the logo) the grille also evolves; indicating the evolution and improvement of each new line of cars. You want the grille because it signals the car is a BMW, but you want the latest grille because the new shape indicates it is the best BMW.


BMW grille

There are various toolkits available to a designer working with, and translating VBL. Think of easyJet or T-Mobile and I’d guess that the very first thing you think of is the colour that the brands use.


Aside from colour, shape, typography, finish and composition are the design elements that are most often used to create a compelling VBL. Tesco, for example, take advantage of many of these to deliver continuity and difference across the huge range of services they offer.

Tesco VBL

Indeed, one of the benefits of consistent application of VBL, is the ease with which new products can be launched within a range, yet still differentiate themselves within that selection.


Looking to help evolve the way you communicate with your audience, or to begin the process of creating your own language? Our design and branding team are here to help.


Just don’t ask them in French.
By Oliver Brown