Photo of a lit lighthouse at twilight.

By Kizita Awuakye

Illustration of the same man in business and casual outfitsImagine wearing a Bermuda shorts to an executive job interview or ripped jeans to a black-tie event. Despite having the best of intentions, how you present yourself affects how others perceive you. When it comes to business, the same rules apply. Your organization’s visual identity — a key part of your brand — affects how your organization is perceived in the marketplace. Elements such as logos, websites, print collateral and marketing materials can impact a potential client’s opinion of you, which drives their willingness to work with you. In a competitive marketplace, this can make or break your organization.

The strongest brands have designs that match the products and services their organizations provide. Visual cues need to quickly reinforce your brand, telling the customer exactly what you represent. Poorly presented information can cause audiences to pass you by. By using clear design elements — shapes, colors, texture, typography and imagery — companies can drive home a clear sense of their brand. The goal is for the visual perception to make the desired impression.

Let’s take the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency logo, for example.

Logo of the U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyHow do the design elements in their logo affect how you perceive the agency? What stands out first are the colors—blue and green are associated with earth and water. The shapes and lines form a flower in bloom. Notice how the type forms a little protective bubble around the bloom. Reading the actual text, you see the agency’s name, United States Environmental Protection Agency. All of these design elements are unified and appropriate to the agency’s mission—protecting the environment. What you perceive graphically matches what the agency does.

This is the magic of design and perception, and it happens at a faster rate than you realize. According to the Journal of Behavior & Information Technology, visual appeal can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, which means that organizations have only a moment to make a good visual impression and to be perceived as they would like.