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Visual language: what is it? In short, it’s a meaning-conveying system mostly based on visuals or symbols. A wide range of people can understand the graphics due to their patterns. For enterprises, this resource helps create a strong brand identity, among other advantages. As a result, it aids in helping your business advance in terms of brand distinction.

To truly comprehend and be able to use this idea, though, there is a great deal more that you need to know. Visual language is a system that communicates through visual elements. It helps users perceive and understand visible signs.

A painting is an example of visual communication because your eyes perceive its signs (like shapes and colors) and your brain interprets them.

That way, to understand what is a visual language, let’s take a look into semiotics first. This is the study of signs and symbols processing in human communication that considers the social and cultural background to explain their meanings.

Semiotics is helpful to comprehend how we create and interpret patterns in several communication systems. Then, it allows us to develop a system to deliver a specific message that can be easily understood by a group of people.

In the studies of this field, the sign is considered by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, as the basic unit. According to him, it is composed of two parts that can never be apart from each other — signified (the concept) and signifier (what is used to convey meaning).

Think about the English language. Each word is associated with one or more meanings and all of its speakers know these signs. Besides that, there is a set of rules they must follow while using each sign. This is what allows them to successfully communicate with each other.

In a visual language, we also need patterns. So we can say that it is a set of signs and symbols that convey specific meanings using few or no words. That is, an image, a color, a symbol — alone or combined — must be associated with a concept.

Moreover, those signs must be able to express the intended message in a way that people who will receive it can get its meaning. In Marketing, that means you have to know your audience and create a consistent communication system.

What are the Main Benefits of Visual Language?

A visual language, as you already know, uses visual elements to express meaning. This is great for your business. Let’s find out why!


When you create a visual language, your marketing campaigns become consistent. This allows your audience to identify and associate each piece to your company. It does not mean you have to insert the brand’s logo or name in all content pieces. It is enough to use the same style — colors, typography, type of image — and bring elements strongly associated with the brand.

If you manage to do that, the audience will be more likely to move down faster along the sales funnel. And why so? Because people will get all the messages you are delivering in each content and connect to them.

When we see an arched yellow “M” near something red or simply two yellow arches, we immediately think about McDonald’s. The brand uses a color palette and typography that can be recognizable anywhere, and each visual content is based on that.

Check out the example below of a video marketing strategy. Everything is yellow, red and white. There are arches and curves all over the video, a train (that makes us think about speed) and french fries. All of these elements belong to McDonald’s “universe”.

The polemic separated arches were meant to stress the importance of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Even though this is the only element, we know that it is connected to the brand, because, again, it has consistency.

mcdonalds visual language for Covid-19

Effective connection with the audience

In the process of developing a visual language, the audience’s profile, preferences, and perception of the brand are considered. Therefore, your visual content will be more effective in establishing a connection with targeted people.

Read Also: Distinctive Brand Assets Defined

Having effective client communication helps you to build a solid relationship with the audience, improve your brand image — because it will increase transparency — and get information that is useful to enhance your products or services.

Strong brand identity

Because visual language is consistent, it makes it easier for your audience to identify your company’s content and products when they see it. Therefore, it will help you to strengthen your brand identity. That means all content will bring the same style, express the same values, and associate them with your brand. So it is a great tool you can use to communicate what is important to your brand.

Take a look at Coca-Cola’s logo, for example. Regardless of the language you speak, if you see any of the logos below separately in a bottle or can, even without the word “Coca-Cola”, you will know which beverage is inside.

How to Develop a Visual Language for Business?

After learning about all these advantages, you’re undoubtedly keen to learn some design tricks for your brand. These are ours.

1. Define a color palette

One of the most basic aspects of a visual language is the color palette. It is a tool to establish your brand identity. Remember McDonald’s — everyone who knows the brand will think about it when they see yellow, red and white.

To define your palette, pick the colors that suit your brand the most, helping to deliver your message. You can choose a dominant one and others to complement it. Just make sure to include elements using the colors of the palette in all your content.

Apply the same palette on your website, logo, interactive data visualization or any other type of content you are going to use in your marketing strategy or presentations.

Heineken’s color palette, for example, has different shades of green, red and very light silver. Even in a visual that presents information on a report, the same colors are used.

Heineken visual language

2. Develop a typography hierarchy

It is important to be consistent, but you should not use the same typography in all contents. Depending on the style you choose, the typography might not be appropriate for all types of content, making them hard to read.

Select a typeface family or multiple fonts. If you have text in your logo, pick a distinct font to create contrast and stand out. In a text, for example, differentiate the title and the body by using different fonts, styles and/or sizes.

Besides that, set clear rules about where to use each typeface — headlines, sub-headlines, body — and how to determine the size, weight, alignment and spacing. That will ensure consistency in your brand’s content.

Absolut Vodka explains in its style guide the fonts’ usage. There are a specific font, style and size for each section of a text.

3. Define an image style

The style of the images also helps to strengthen your brand identity and make it memorable. If you are going to use illustrations, try to apply similar characteristics — shapes, design — to different contents. It is important that the visuals can be related even when they are not together. Therefore, when your audience has access to only one content, it will easily know that it belongs to your brand.

In the image below, you can see that Smashmallow keeps the same image style in diverse materials. The color palette is pretty varied but, with the support of design and typefaces, it succeeds in creating a particular visual language.


4. Create a brand style guide

The style guide presents everything that is to know about your brand — from purpose, values, and mission to typography, colors, logo, and image usage. In the style guide, make sure to explain all aspects of the typefaces that are going to be used. Also, define the color palette and establish the guidelines for logo usage.

Besides that, give examples of images that can be used, as well as what is not appropriate for the brand. Illustrate it, showing the style and explaining the ideas behind it. Remember to also set the tone and language.

Having a brand style guide, all content created for your marketing campaigns will be properly formatted and will follow the same visual language, which means, again, consistency and strong identity.

A visual language, which helps to communicate with your audience by using visuals, is important to ensure that your company’s content is consistent, to strengthen its identity, and to facilitate product recognition. Given that, it is vital to develop a good and detailed one.

Businesses may strengthen their brand identity, keep communications consistent, and build strong relationships with their audience by using well-defined visual language. Employing visual components like typefaces, colors, and images helps businesses establish a unified and identifiable brand identity that appeals to their target audience.

Strong visual language helps firms stand out from the competition by strengthening brand distinction and adding consistency to marketing activities.

What Makes a Good Visual Language?

Communication is design. While writers employ appropriate language, designers employ appropriate visual cues to convey a message. Furthermore, the significance of having a visual language cannot be overstated when it comes to choosing the appropriate visual components for a design.

It’s complicated to communicate visually. A common mistake made by designers is to reduce the function of a visual language to only aesthetic considerations. A visual language is far more potent than that, though.

1. Understand the anatomy of the product

Even before starting work on a visual language, you need to conduct a UI audit of your client’s product, to get a clear understanding of what colors, fonts, and shapes are being used currently. It’s also worth getting any brand guidelines from stakeholders. These will help you understand the general look and feel of the company’s branding.

Without all this information and understanding, you’ll work entirely in the dark and risk wasting your time building something that might be undone. Spend time acquiring the required information and analyzing it. As you start working on the language, make sure that your design decisions follow the findings you’ve learned.

2. Understand how users perceive your brand

As mentioned above, visual language is an integral part of brand identity. The visual language must represent who and what you are. When working on visual language, it’s always essential to have a clear understanding of who you’re designing for.

Invest enough time in user research, so that at the end of the research phase, you have a clear understanding of your target audience and how they perceive your brand. This understanding will give you a reason for your visual direction. Every bit of your design should reflect your visual identity.

3. Define clear design principles

The next step after defining a dictionary is establishing the clear syntax and semantics of the language. Design principles are the grammar of the language—they define rules on how to use a particular element when creating a design. Design principles are hands-on rules to always keep in mind when designing the product.

Design principles should be:

  • Genuine. They should reflect the philosophy of product design that your team follows.
  • Actionable. Design principles shouldn’t be general recommendations on how to design products. For example, they shouldn’t say, “Make things beautiful.” That doesn’t really mean anything to the person designing the product, because no one wants to intentionally build ugly products. 
  • Clear. Design principles should be understood by everyone who participates in product development.
  • Inspiring. Design principles shouldn’t limit creativity. They should guide the team’s work in a unified direction and provide enough room for exploring creative design solutions.

For example, one of the design principles of Medium, a popular blogging platform, is direction over choice. The Medium team provides the following description for it: 

“This principle was often referred to while we were designing the Medium editor. We purposely traded layout, type, and color choices for guidance and direction. Direction was more appropriate for the product because we wanted people to focus on writing, and not get distracted by choice.”

It’s a clear directive to build something that is authentic and actionable for the Medium designers.

4. Document the process

No matter how tight your deadlines for creating a visual language are, you should never overlook the documentation process. Comprehensive documentation about the visual communication system is something that can be tremendously important for the product design process.

Lack of thorough documentation is a common cause of confusion during the implementation phase of a design. Creating documentation throughout the creation process allows for smoother decision making because you will have a better rationale behind each decision.

5. Stick to the rules you’ve established

Once a product team has developed a set of guidelines for a visual language and reached an agreement on them, it’s vital to stick to them. The biggest misstep when building a visual language is inconsistency. Inconsistency happens when team members don’t follow guidelines. Remember, there is no use for a language if nobody wants to speak it.

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