It's how you say it.

In the previous post we talked about how character should be reflected in graphic design. I thought it might be a good idea to elaborate a bit on that theme. One of the ways that we can express the character of a brand identity is through the tone of voice that we use. The term tone of voice is used to describe not what we say but the way we say it. As we talked about in the previous posts you need to consider what the character of your brand identity is. Are you formal, friendly, serious, relaxed, fun? This should directly inform your tone of voice. If you’re selling something fun to people, you need to express the fun in the words that you write. If you’re a company who has a serious look and feel to their visual identity, the use of light hearted humour won’t be cohesive. If there is a disparity between what you’re saying and how you’re saying it then people will notice. 

A simple change of terminology can make the difference in the tone of voice and therefore influence who will connect with what your saying and how they will respond to it. When we have a real physical conversation with someone we make choices about the language we use and the way we speak in order to connect with them. In the same way, when we design, we think about how we want to speak to people.

For example, a company that manufactures cereal bars might have different characters that can be expressed through the words that they use.

“We make yummy, healthy snack bars that put a big bounce in your step!


“We formulate powerful nutritional energy bars to power your day.”

Here the tone of voice is informed by the character of the brand. Both of these sentences carry the same basic information that the business sells bars that give you energy. However the two obviously come from very different personalities whose focus and intentions are clearly defined. One is fun and friendly the other comes from a position of strength and science. In turn the visual elements that would be used to complement the tone of voice would be very different. The first may use a hand drawn typeface with illustrations and bright colour palette perhaps including yellow or orange. The second may employ a Sans Serif typeface with a technical edge, photography and again a strong colour palette but in this case perhaps red. This kind of clear definition helps people to connect and understand your business and it’s products.

In fact, a good example of how tone of voice and the visual side of your identity meet is the use of typography. The choice of typeface in your graphic design can have a huge effect on the perception of what you're saying. To use some extreme examples we can say that to use a typeface such as ‘Blippo' for something such as a funeral directors or an insurance company really wouldn’t be appropriate, but ‘Baskerville' may be a better choice. The typeface you choose is almost like the actual, physical tone of our voice when you speak. Are you trying to reassure, shout, be taken seriously or make a joke? All of these things can be reinforced by using the right typeface.

Tone of voice can be incorporated into the overall guidelines that you set for yourself and your brand. You can do things like define the types of words you want to use and those to avoid. However, be careful, it may be detrimental to ‘over-define' your tone of voice, as attempting to tick all of the boxes you give yourself may ultimately lead to something that appears manufactured. Rigidity can reduce the authenticity of what you're saying. Your audience will recognise when you are being genuine so make that a priority and the rest should flow.

As we discussed in the previous post, being honest about who you are will make communicating your message to your audience far easier. There will be consistency and authenticity in what you say and in turn how you say it. Keeping your tone of voice in sync with your visual brand character is easier if it comes naturally. So while you’re considering your visual branding in terms of colour and typography and how it reflects your brand personality, it’s important to define tone of voice in the same way, as all of these elements should be consistent and cohesive.