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Corporate identity is the way in which a company presents itself to the public at large, both customers and employees. A company's corporate communications department is largely tasked with developing and maintaining corporate identity, generally through the use of branding and trademarks. Corporate identity can often be expressed through a logo, combining both an image and a specific type font. Guidelines then exist concerning specific color and layout for the use of the logo.
At its basic level, corporate identity comprises three parts:
Corporate design not only includes the aforementioned logo, but also uniforms and the company's website. These are all part of a company's "look." Corporate communications encompass such aspects as advertising and public relations. Some companies often employ a mascot (Ronald McDonald, for example). Corporate behavior includes the internal values of a company, often spelled out in its mission statement.
Visuals, as a part of corporate identity, cannot be underestimated. A logo can have a significant role in the organization's presentation to the public. Logos express the value and ambition of the company, promoting its recognition, reputation, and image. Most individuals, if surveyed, would be able to identify an entire range of corporate logos, such is the ubiquity of corporate identity in today's society.
Although corporate identity is mainly a twentieth century phenomenon, it does have its roots in the past, which are worth a cursory glance. In the tenth century, the Chinese began using woodblock prints to make symbols for their businesses and trades. Printers of Europe used marks to signify their society, a practice attributed to Nicolas Jensen. In the nineteenth century, the Moss Engraving Company formed their own trademark as did the Century Guild, both of the United Kingdom. These few illustrations show that the concept of branding and identity existed, though very much the fledgling.
The development of postwar visual identification resulted from the pioneering efforts by strong individual designers, namely, Peter Behrens, Giovanni Pintori, and, a few decades later, Paul Rand.
In 1907 AEG, the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), was a German company that manufactured products such as streetlamps and teapots. They hired Peter Behrens as a freelance creative consultant to develop a uniform appearance for all products of the company, which ranged from technical products of the company to the incorporation of graphics into signet, letterhead, packing, posters and folders for the creation of a cohesive corporate image.
AEG is proud of the artistic genius they found in Behrens, and commemorated his work by saying, "Peter Behrens was not only the father of German industrial design - he was also the founder of corporate identity. Working for AEG, Behrens was the first person to create logos, advertising material, and company publications with a consistent, unified design.
It may seem incredible today, but there was a time when industrial production was purely functional. Artistic merit and aesthetic sense were largely irrelevant in mass-produced goods; there was little harmony between form and function. At least, that was how it was until 1907, when a certain architect was appointed Artistic Consultant to AEG" (AEG). That consultant, of course, was Peter Behrens.
Giovanni Pintori was an innovative designer who lived in the post world war II era. He worked for Olivetti Corporation, an Italian typewriter and business machines company committed to humanist ideals and technological progress. While he was with them, in 1949, he designed the Olivetti poster, which in and of itself created a corporate image for the company. The poster itself was a melange of numbers which suggested the products of the company in an artistic fashion which had not been seen before.
The job of the corporate communications designer is to create and maintain consistent identities and advertising campaigns.