You’ve got your company or product name, you’ve established a strong brand identity, but the fun’s not over! Now it’s time to establish a visual identity that reinforces your brand strategy in a distinct, cohesive and memorable way.

It’s not just about creating a logo. A visual design system comprises numerous elements that work in concert to tell your story, providing both the flexibility and constraint required as your company evolves.

While every organization is different, a typical visual system may include a logo; supporting graphics; typography; a color palette; iconography; motion and interactive elements; photography and/or illustration style; data visualization standards; and web and application design guidance.

Since it’s true that a picture says a thousand words, here’s a look at four brands with visual systems that we love.


A recent report revealed that American consumers spent more money on Airbnb than on Hilton and its affiliated brands in 2018, which means that Airbnb now owns approximately 20 percent of the entire US consumer lodging market. In the midst of this explosive growth, the company’s design team recognized the need for a more systematic visual language to help improve user experience, guide numerous designers and stakeholders, synchronize across multiple platforms and continuously evolve through iterative software releases. In the words of the former principal designer at Airbnb, Karri Saarinen, “A unified design system is essential to building better and faster; better because a cohesive experience is more easily understood by our users, and faster because it gives us a common language to work with.”

The company has a clear mission that drives all of its decisions: To help build a world where everyone on earth can feel like they belong anywhere. Applying this to Airbnb’s visual system meant designing for trust and designing for everyone.

The resulting visual system is bright, bold and inspiring, grounded on four key principles:

  • Unified. Each piece is part of a greater whole and should contribute positively to the system at scale.

  • Universal. Airbnb is used by a global community, and products and visual language should be welcoming and accessible.

  • Iconic. The work should speak boldly and clearly.

  • Conversational. The use of motion breathes life into products and allows Airbnb to communicate with users in easily understood ways.

NYT .jpg

NY Transit Authority

Do you know that 4.3 million people ride on the New York City Subway System each day? If you’re one of over 1 billion people to go through the city’s turnstiles each year, you’ll recognize the iconic subway maps and signs that dot the city. But navigating the Big Apple hasn’t always been so easy. Until the mid-1960s, the NYC transit system was comprised of confusing signage, mismatched wayfinding devices and inconsistent design elements, making it extremely difficult for riders to get from here to there. Internationally acclaimed graphic designer Massimo Vignelli and business partner Bob Noorda were hired for the formidable task of demystifying this navigation nightmare by establishing a new visual system.

Alexander Tochilovsky, Design Curator at the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at The Cooper Union in New York City, explained, “It wasn’t so much making logos and designing posters – it was more a holistic approach towards applying design strategy to business and business interests. Graphic design was just half the story. For them, the approach was to try to figure out what was wrong and, in effect, fix the broken system.”

And fix it they did. The result is history – incredible UX design before UX design was even a “thing.” Their work is captured in The New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual, a 182-page guide on everything from typographical symbols to spacing, color and copy editing standards. The visual system is modern, cohesive, and most important, intuitive for both designer application and user navigation.



“Build Bonds.” This is the guiding ethos behind IBM’s design philosophy and principles, helping the company distinguish every element and every experience. From bold hues and brilliant geometric patterns to expressive motion that captures users’ attention, the technology giant’s visual system is a striking blend of “human-centered design practices and time-tested business acumen.”

The following four design principles guide every IBM experience: Carefully considered, design is an exercise of decision-making – experience, judgment, responsibility and timing; Uniquely unified, in order to guide, continuity and creativity must co-exist in design; Expertly executed, everything communicates, both the things we do and the things we don’t do; Positively progressive, to guide is to lead.

Famed American architect and IBM industrial designer Eliot Noyes once remarked, “A corporation should be like a painting; everything visible should contribute to the correct total statement.” IBM’s visual system does just that.


Chobani Yogurt

In late 2017, the company that made Greek yogurt mainstream unveiled a new visual system timed with its 10-year anniversary. From competitive analyses, consumer perception studies and an exhaustive distillation of the brand’s heritage and values, the company found that while they make yogurt, their real business is in wellness – from nutritional wellness to social wellness to environmental wellness.

Chobani Chief Creative Officer Leland Maschmeyer explained, “People were seeing Chobani in a bigger light than sometimes we saw ourselves, and that informed quite a bit of the design. What people really loved about us is that we stood for higher values – values you could taste and you could see in our products. We stood for things beyond the product in the cup.”

 The company successfully translated this idea of universal wellness into a beautifully wholesome, highly distinctive visual system that conveys these key design values: Be handcrafted; Be approachable; Have a sense of naivety; Have a sense of nostalgia. This system shapes everything from the brand’s packaging, website and campaigns to its cafés, and more. And now… we’re hungry.

A visual system done right will encapsulate your mission, reinforce and extend your brand message, unify your communications efforts and help build brand loyalty. Ready to take your brand identity to the next level with a new visual system? Take 10 minutes on us and discover what’s possible. 

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