Applying the Percy Principles to Brand Design - Part 1

Unless you're an artist of some description, it's quite likely that you've never heard of the Percy Principles of Art and Composition. This informal list of 8 propositions was compiled by Marvin Percy Bartel in 2004, and is widely admired for its simple yet powerful insights into creating more engaging artwork.

I was first introduced to the Percy Principles at university, and I've often sought ways in which they can be applied to disciplines outside their original context. Much of what they cover has relevance to any remotely creative endeavour. In this first of a two-part series, I'm going to explore what the first 4 principles have to teach us about brand identity, both in terms of logo design and brand management.

 Brand Identity Logo Design


1) Avoid a sore thumb

"Nothing in the composition should be so strong that the rest of the composition looks neglected."

This principle is as true for logo design as it is for any other visual medium. If a designer lavishes hours of attention on the illustration portion of the logo, then spends five minutes selecting a font for the logotype, it's highly unlikely that the two elements will compliment each other effectively. In fact, it will probably look like an ugly mashup of two different logos. The logo must be considered as a cohesive whole throughout the design process, and each element must be given the same level of attention and appropriate weight.

It's just as important to maintain balance and cohesion in terms of brand management. If you concentrate on building brand awareness and a strong brand image, but neglect the customer experience, then the brand as a whole will suffer, and vice versa. In the long term, it's much more effective to deploy fewer resources evenly across all fronts than it is to deploy vast resources in a single area. Brand identity, brand culture, marketing, public relations and customer experience all need to be properly considered and supported if a brand is going to prosper.


2) Keep everything connected

"Connect each part of the composition to something else in the composition."

Fundamentally, both the first and second principles are about achieving balance. The first principle suggests that each element of a logo design should be given equal attention. The second suggests that each element should be connected. Each element of the logo should look like it 'belongs' with the others. As a basic example, a minimalist illustration will look out of place next to an elaborate font, even if both have received equal attention from the designer. Some of the best logos find more engaging ways to build connections, such as an illustration that evokes the name of the brand through the use of a subtle visual cue, like the new Pizza Hut logo, which is suggestive of both a pizza and, erm, a hut.

When it comes to brand management, you could say that 'keep everything connected' is the most fundamental principle there is. Each brand communication, from business cards to TV ads and Facebook posts to signage, must not only present the brand in a consistent and cohesive manner, but must also support every other communication wherever possible. Marketing campaigns are a perfect example, with multiple online, offline and on-ground platforms working in harmony to reinforce the message of the campaign and generate maximum exposure.


3) Include secrets

"Artwork is more interesting and expressive if it has hidden features and ideas that it only reveals to diligent observers."

This certainly isn't universally applicable when it comes to logo design. In fact, the designer is often seeking to do the exact opposite; to communicate as clearly as possible what an organisation is, does, and stands for. There are notable exceptions though, like clever use of negative space - look at these logo designs to get a sense of what I mean. When executed with flair, this kind of design feature can create a moment of satisfying realization, sparking an immediate connection between the customer and the brand that may turn out to be the first positive step in a long term relationship.

As with logo design, being secretive rather than expressive seems like a counter-intuitive strategy for brand management. But again, when executed effectively it can deliver real rewards. The article Brand Strategy and the Power of Secrets by Mark Di Somma goes into quite some depth on the subject. This passage summarizes the idea perfectly:

"Perhaps we need to bring back a little secrecy … but only to make brands more inviting and exciting. Perhaps more brands should be looking for ways to be intriguing and to offer something that rewards curiosity. That’s not easy in a world where Tapscott and Ticoll’s forecast has proven remarkably accurate. Yet some brands have used secrets to successfully preserve an air of mystery."


4) Challenge common assumptions

"Strong artwork often makes the viewer question prior assumptions about the world."

This is perhaps the most difficult of the Percy Principles to apply to the discipline of brand identity. Logo designs are generally developed with the conscious objective of encouraging certain assumptions about the nature of the businesses they represent. Any attempt to challenge those assumptions is likely to be interpreted as poor brand positioning or even deliberately misleading. BP made exactly this mistake when they sought to challenge the common assumption that oil companies are inevitably bad for the environment; they changed their logo to express the unlikely themes of nature and wholesomeness. Then the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened. Challenging assumptions comes with risks, which is why logos within a particular industry or sector still share many common underlying qualities despite being superficially different, and very rarely seek to actively subvert their customers' expectations.

The outlook for brand management isn't much different. Customers typically engage with brands experiences that are unambiguously positive and comfortable. Very few of us go shopping with a view to having our assumptions challenged. Unlike logo design however, there is some scope within brand management to work against customers' expectations in a way that surprises and delights - although it's largely limited to marketing and advertising. Television advertising provides some good examples. Take a look at this Guinness ad from 1996 that subverts expectations and challenges the audience from start to finish:


So, once again the Percy Principles have proven to have a fascinating relevance well outside their original context. I hope you've found something in these first 4 principles to help you build a better, more engaging brand, and to feed the success of your business. Next time, we'll take a look at the final 4 principles.

Link to Part 2


If you'd like to discover how Jamie's insights can help you develop your brand, contact Brandsworth for a FREE consultation.