By Jo Wdowiak
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Visual Identities with flexible systems

Systems instead of logos

In his book ‘Flexible Visual Systems’, Martin Lorenz makes a strong case for no longer needing logo based visual identities in contemporary design. He purposefully rejects the word branding (with its origins in branding cattle with a hot iron) as an archaic process and, in his opinion, as out-dated as pasting a logo everywhere in a modern design context.

It’s a radial idea and the logo is not going to disappear overnight, that’s for sure. However, Lorenz’s argument for a more flexible visual system is a really interesting one. And there is plenty to take from his extensive research and work, even if you conclude that the logo still has a place in your heart, and your design practice going forward.

What is a design system

The phrase ‘design system’ is usually synonymous with digital services and web design. The term describes a set of components that, together, create a visual ‘language’. These components are teamed with a set of principles – rules on how to use and apply the components. The components or assets that make up a visual identity will usually comprise of shapes, symbols, lines, letters & patterns. The properties of these shapes, for example colour and texture are equally as important.

The rules of a visual identity add parameters and control to the above – they define how the assets should be used. It’s a particularly important consideration for when design systems are passed from designer to designer (or from design agency to in-house design team). These rules will guide the user on how the assets can be positioned or applied, what size, format or texture they can be.

The components or assets that make up a design system don’t all need to be used at the same time. In-fact the aim is that they remain interchangeable and flexible. If considered and applied correctly the flexible nature of a visual system comes from the fact that, the principles and components can be used and combined in different ways and still be easily recognised as part of the same identity.

Coventry city branding

Design studio Uncommon’s work for the Coventry City ‘UK City of Culture 2021’ is a brilliant example of a grid-based design system. The identity used across the city at the time was striking, flexible and recognisable. As is the key use of movement that is so integral.

The identity appeared all over the city across varied touchpoints, for example event communications, advertising, merchandise and a website.

Graphic elements mixed with photography with a limited colour palette for Coventry city of culture
Brand where the logo isn't the focus for Coventry city of culture
Poster designs for Coventry city of culture
Coventry city of culture badges

All images © Uncommon via Creative Boom

Why is it so appropriate for today

Compared to even 10 years ago so much of design happens on screens and in the digital world these days that using a flexible system seems very appropriate. To begin with, designs for a digital space need to adapt to different screen sizes and dimensions. Not only this, identities don’t need to be confined to purely visual elements – they can include animation, movement and sound. Just like a traditional logo or brand, the aim of a design system is much the same – to make sure the company, product, event etc. that they are representing is identifiable.

If we compare the two a logo is static and carries with it one message, which it repeats over and over again. A design system on the other hand has the ability to carry many messages depending one where and how it is applied.


At a dozen eggs we are big advocates for flexible branding and a great deal of Lorenz’s plight for flexible design systems resonates. Having said that we still believe that a logo is a hugely powerful trigger to recognising a brand ‘in a glance’. The best logo’s out there are distinctive, effective and recognisable … many of them ‘iconic’, and it’s hard to imagine brands moving forward without them.

We see flexible branding as a halfway house. Flexible branding provides you with the opportunity to be playful and versatile and to consider how to be distinctive and effective depending on where and how a design is going to be used. You can read more about our flexible branding process here.

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