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How Building a Business Identity Works

The "Look"

How do you keep the look of your business consistent across different media? There are several design elements that play a critical role in helping you do this.


First of all, your company logo has to remain consistently displayed in color, size, and the spacial relationships with the elements around it.


Color choices

The color can be standardized by using a set color system such as the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The printer you select will use a specific PMS ink color designated by you and your logo designer. By always using this PMS ink color, you can be assured your logo will be a consistent color in all of your materials and documents.

Here is an example of some of the Pantone colors and how their numbering system works:

There are, of course, many more colors than those displayed here. Your printer or designer should have a printed color chart you can look at to determine the exact color you want to use. It is difficult to select a specific color solely by seeing it on a computer screen because computer monitors very greatly in how they display colors, so make sure you see an actual printed sample.

Black and white versions

You will need to make sure your logo can be printed nicely in black and white, as well as color. If you know you will be faxing and photocopying the logo then you should also make sure it still looks good when produced this way. You may need to have variations of the logo for use in these types of documents. (This is something to keep in mind for many of your documents such as letterhead, forms, etc.)


You should come up with guidelines addressing the placement of you logo on patterned or colored backgrounds. The background can detract considerably from the look and impact of the logo and should be limited to white or whatever you feel looks the best.

Logo Variations

Sometimes it is necessary to reverse your logo in order to print it on a dark background. For example, if you have company shirts made, you may want to use a dark color that would require your logo to be stitched in white. Make sure you have reversed versions of your logo specifically for these uses. Sometimes the reversal process changes certain elements of the logo such as shaded areas and gradations. By creating these versions initially, you'll have it set up in a usable format from the start and can address those changes without being in a rush for some special event and ending up with a surprise.

Size and Space Considerations

Set up minimum, as well as maximum, sizes for using the logo in typical documents and materials. Often the logo is reduced to fit a space and ends up being illegible in the final document. This creates a bad image that only becomes worse if the document is then faxed or photocopied.

In addition to size, it is also important to set requirements for the spacing around your logo. Look at the examples below to see what we mean. The document on the right crowds the logo and looks unprofessional.

Illustrate, in your guidelines, the required white space on all sides of the logo. This will ensure that the logo has the impact and look you have worked so hard to develop. These examples show how this can be illustrated.

Incorrect Uses of the Logo

Set up an example page of incorrect uses of the logo. This is especially important if you have other locations that may be creating their own materials. Making an electronic version of your logo available to others can be helpful or harmful.

Examples of incorrect use may be using wrong colors, stretching, squeezing or otherwise distorting the logo. Here are some examples.

Instructions for Using Logo Files

It is a very good idea to have instructions about how to use electronic logo files. If you make the logo available electronically to your employees then you will very likely have a lot of questions about how to use it. The first thing you hear will be, "I can't open the logo." This will always be the case unless your employees have graphics programs that can read the file formats that your logo will be in. Most likely you will have .pcx format or .bmp format for use in everyday word processing documents. Your employees will need to know that, in order to use those files, they have to "place" or "insert" the logo file as a graphic or clip art file onto the document in the position where they want it to appear.

For example, in Microsoft® Word, to place a .pcx logo file into a document, you simply go to the "Insert" menu and select "Picture" which gives you a pop-out box that let's you tell it what type. There they would select "from file" and then direct it to the location of the logo file on their hard drive. This will place a scalable copy of the logo graphic on their page.

Other logo file formats should be available. For example, your printer or designer will need the logo in an .eps (encapsulated postscript) format or a .tif format. Your web designer will use a .jpg or a .gif format. You may also want to make the .gif or .jpg formats of your logo available to your employees for use in computer presentations. These files are designed for on-screen use and are typically smaller in file size.


An element that can have almost as much impact as your logo on the recognition of your business, is the font face you use in your marketing materials, documents, and other printed collateral. Select a standard font family and use it consistently in all of your documents. Consistent font usage has more of a cumulative effect on how your customers recognize and perceive your company. This level of attention to detail contributes to both the recognition and the perceived image of your company, as well as the professionalism your company displays to the public.

As with the guidelines for your logo, you'll also need to set up guidelines for the fonts your company will use, as well as how and where each style should be used. Here is an example of how you can set up standard font faces and the guidelines for their use.

Make sure you also have rules against alterations to the fonts just as you did with your logo. This would include restricting things like changing width (the actual width of the letter) or kerning (the spacing between the letters) of the font, or using odd spacing between lines of text. All of these things effect the look of the document.

Color palette

The colors your company uses will obviously be dictated by the color you chose for your logo. There should be, however, additional colors selected for use in media and documentation that can support it. By selecting a color palette for your company to use, you can ensure that the hues and shades of colors used are complementary to the logo color.

If your company has different divisions or areas of business, you may even want to set up a standard color for each to establish a sort of sub-identity for that area.

Remember to consider the emotions that different colors evoke and make your selections accordingly. For example, green has a calming effect, while red has a more intense and exciting effect. Blue tends to bring about a more sober and contemplative feeling, while purple brings about a regal, dignified and even a mystic feeling. Yellow and orange elicit more feelings of joy, energy, and cheerfulness. While these associations are not absolute, they can be used as somewhat of a guide for color selection.

Some examples of color combinations that can work are shown on the right. Use your imagination when thinking of colors to put use. Many of these samples may not be something you would think could work together, but when they're used in marketing materials or presentations, they can provide good impact and a professional image.

Paper Stocks

The paper that your stationery, business cards, brochures, and other materials are printed on have an impact as well. You should make your paper selections based on color, texture and weight, as well as cost. Keep in mind that if you choose a color other than white, your printed inks will also shift in color. Also keep in mind that all white stocks are not created equal. There are many varying levels of brightness for white stock. Typically, the brighter the stock, the higher the quality and, therefore, the more expensive. This may not always hold true, but can be used as a rule of thumb.

There are many paper producers and hundreds of styles of papers. Visit a printer and look through their sample books to get an idea of what you like. Or, if you use a designer to design your materials and identity, they will probably also have some good suggestions and samples you can look at.

Papers will be available in several different weights within the same style and color family. There may also be variations of shading within a specific texture family. This may work well for differentiating various segments of your business, as we mentioned above in the color palette section.

Once you have determined the stocks and weights you want to use for your materials, you should make sure you identify those styles in your written identity guidelines. If you are a small business, this will help you keep track of it down the line and stay consistent when you need reprints. In many cases, your printer will keep a record of what you used in the past, but don't depend on them solely to keep track of details. If you have other locations, detailing this information in your written guidelines will provide them with the information they need in order to have their own materials printed.

Now, let's move on to your stationery design and how you can maintain a consistent look across all of your documents.