One functional brand identity — inspired by road signs

Pete Woodhouse
Jan 6 · 6 min read

A brand identity has a very important job to do, a fundamental function:

To identify its brand’s name

If a brand name isn’t identified, it won’t be remembered, and it won’t become familiar. If it’s not familiar, then messaging, products, or services can’t be attached to the brand name, and people won’t think of that brand when a need arises.

It sounds obvious that a brand identity needs to identify its brand’s name but obvious isn’t always easy. Creating a brand identity that is easily recognizable in an increasing sea of competitors, across multiple touchpoints, and applied to a growing variety of media — is obviously tricky.

Redgate’s brand identity — inspired by road signs

Every time I visit Mumbai I discover a bunch of new taxi signs, below are just a few of them.

Each taxi sign uses a variety of materials and styles, from crayons and marker pens to photos and screenprints — even laminated photocopies.

Yet in spite of this variety, the signs are still easy to identify — even from a distance.

The 8 visual elements of the taxi signs

They’re easy to identify because there’s a system at play, and this system includes multiple visual elements (see above).

If one, two, or even three of the visual elements are missing there are still enough elements to recognize and identify the sign.

These multiple elements give flexibility.

Even though the sign above is faded and rusty the distinctive shape of the sign and the use of blue makes it easy to recognize and not be confused with other road signs.

While the sign below isn’t the distinctive shape and doesn’t contain blue, it does, however, contain the P, the car illustration, the arrow, and the number, making it easy to recognize.

Redgate’s brand identity works the same as these signs

Like the taxi signs, Redgate’s brand identity contains multiple visual elements, these include the Redgate Red, a distinctive display typeface, a database shape, a rounded line, and a curve that’s taken from the database shape:

And also like the taxi signs, it’s these visual elements that allow flexibility as not all of the elements are required all of the time. This means Redgate’s brand identity can easily be applied across the ever-increasing amount of touchpoints without losing consistency and stay recognizable.

Applying Redgate’s visual elements

Product logos

Whitepaper

Website

UI

Conference stand

Twitter

The examples above show how the visual elements are applied differently depending on the context.

For example, when it’s important to grab someone’s attention, such as at a crowded event or on a busy Twitter feed, we use lots of Redgate Red, one of the most attention-grabbing elements.

On Redgate’s website, where you already have someone’s attention, less Redgate Red is required. The more subtle elements, such as the typeface and the curve, are used more often.

It wasn’t always this way

By 2015 Redgate had amassed around 100 different brands with most of the identities having little or no link to Redgate:

It was difficult for anyone working at Redgate to know them all let alone expecting a customer to remember and identify them.

Redgate’s brand identity wasn’t doing its job, it wasn’t always identifying Redgate.

In 2016 the new refreshed brand identity was rolled out. You can see below how using the same visual elements ensures every one of Redgate’s brands is easily linked to Redgate:

Other examples: Channel 4, Kellogg’s, John Lewis, and Apple

Redgate isn’t the only company focusing on the functional side of its brand identity, some of the most well-known brands in the world are now putting one brand first.

One iconic 4

In late 2018/2019 Channel 4 refreshed the identity of its core channels applying the iconic Channel 4 logo across all of them.

By integrating elements from the old logos into the number 4 the new logos not only keep their brand equity but also gain equity from the iconic Channel 4 brand.

With ever-increasing digital channels and more competition from Netflix and Amazon diluting the Channel 4 brand may no longer be an option.


Kellogg’s one heritage

Early 2019 Kellogg’s went Kellogg’s first by redesigning its most popular cereal packaging. Now instead of the cereal brand name being most prominent, it’s Kellogg’s that dominates.

This could be a reaction against all of the copycat brands from the likes of Lidl and Aldi who shamelessly copy Kellogg’s packaging.

There is however one thing these copycats can never truly replicate — the Kellogg’s heritage — putting Kellogg’s first is now an important competitive advantage.


One Christmas — John Lewis & Waitrose

Early 2019 John Lewis and Waitrose almost became one brand thanks to a new unified brand identity.

As you can see from the above logos they now share many brand assets, a typeface, the & Partners, and the distinctive increasing vertical lines. In fact, the only obvious difference is the use of colour.

Even the famous John Lewis Christmas advert has become the John Lewis & Waitrose advert, not only do both of the logos appearing at the end of the advert, but Waitrose is also using the adverts mascot (Edgar the dragon) for their own promotional campaign.

Now when you think of John Lewis you will also think of Waitrose and vice versa — one unified brand identity could be doubling brand awareness and the effectiveness of marketing efforts.


One Apple

An article about branding wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Apple, and recently Apple’s latest products have been putting Apple first. Apple Watch, Apple TV, Apple Music, Apple Pay, and Apple Arcade to name a few.

This is a departure from its usual product naming, iPhone, iPad, iMac, Macbook, iPod, and HomePod, don’t mention Apple.

With this new naming strategy and rumors of Apple developing a car could this be a sign that we’ll be driving around in Apples very soon?


One last thing

As we strive to innovate and move faster to stay ahead of the competition it’s easy to forget about the fundamental function of a brand identity. It’s easy to become distracted by new and shiny trends, or lose perspective on what’s important as pressure grows.

So keep asking the one question:

Is the brand easy to identify – at every touchpoint?

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.

Pete Woodhouse

Written by

@petewoodhouse | Designer @redgate

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from inception to delivery.

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