Six ways to build flexibility into the design identity for your place

A place brand is far more than a logo. But at the same time, having a clear, consistent visual identity is a key component to unifying the different facets of our place as one voice. However, it’s also very easy to get wrong. After all, how do you capture something as multidimensionally complex as a city or nation on paper without being reductive? And what can you do to avoid your community critiquing the cost of the re-design?

Six of our expert partners shared their key insight to help you create a design identity that works flexibly across your city, region, or nation.


Don’t be forgettable.

With a challenge so broad, it can often be tempting to create a very ‘watered down’ design identity. Instead focus on being true to the unique creative elements of your place - this is often the best way to stand out.

To be more distinctive, it’s a great idea to consciously create a design identity that is made up of multiple interchangeable yet interrelated components. A flexible ‘component based’ design system allows you to pick and choose what works best in each situation while remaining true to the consistency of the larger visual identity.

Andy Duke, Group Director for Creative and Experience Design, KINESSO UK&I


Consistency is essential to developing a brand family that works

The best part about flexible designs like this is that they allow for greater representation of three fundamental aspects of a brand – authenticity, believability and distinctiveness – across a larger set of stakeholders and use cases. After all, so many of our places are made up of diverse locations and peoples that can be challenging for a singular identity to capture. However, we do advise consistency in two areas. First, these are best done when there is still a strong, consistent thread that connects the variations to the master brand. And second, the process used to capture both the master identity and its flexible offshoots should be consistent; if not, the end result may look disconnected.

Steve Duncan, MD, C Studios


Build your brand in partnership with your stakeholders.

Build for that flexibility from the start. Begin by surveying your place. What do all the stakeholders, all those businesses, departments, employees, and residents, have in common at a 30,000'' view? Now, think in terms of shapes—is your place a circle brand, square, or rectangle? Each has a different connotation. One of them will be your container, which will remain consistent. The flexibility is inside the container. Maybe each facet is assigned a unique color or design element within that shape. Get buy-in along the way, so that all stakeholders feel included.

John Armstrong, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder, Joy Riot


Consider using a wordmark rather than an icon

Arriving at a design identity that works for all community facets and stakeholders is the “holy grail” of most of our place branding work. My advice is to keep the core brand mark as simple and distinctive as possible. Wordmarks work and are the branding trend we’re seeing across all industries. They aren’t as polarizing as icons that can resonate with some stakeholders and not others. If need be, create individual icons or variations on the core brand to satisfy individual stakeholders so the place remains a “branded house” rather than a “house of brands.”

Dariel Y. Curren, EVP, Development Counsellors International


Develop a solution that allows your place brand to sit alongside those of your stakeholders

However, you’re communicating your place through design or photography, it must be strategically driven by your forward-looking place story. Many places have logo ‘soup’ with confusingly different versions for elements such as inward investment and tourism. thinkingplace pioneered the concept of visual language that can be flexed dependent on audience and most critically can be ‘full on’ for place promotion at an event or place website but can also be in watermark form for stakeholders to use. To achieve maximum impact for place marketing you need to have stakeholders willing to use this watermark aspect of the identity that doesn’t conflict with their brand. So, the secret is a story driven, stakeholder implemented language not a logo.

John Till, Founding Director, thinkingplace


Don’t alienate key actors in your place by creating a brand that is too restrictive.

A successful place visual identity should be flexible enough so all stakeholders can see themselves in it - to not lean too hard towards a specific landmark or attribute of the place - but rather to capture the feeling and authentic vibe of the destination.

An effective way to achieve this is to create a design system and usage guide that features a master visual identity or wordmark component as the centre of the brand. This design system would include sub/sister brands such as Tourism, Economic Development, City Services, etc. These can use complimentary colour palettes, typefaces, and photography. This differentiates the different facets and stakeholders with nuanced elements related to those audiences, providing flexibility and autonomy, and remaining true to the master brand.

Steve Bowker, Creative Director, Alphabet Creative


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