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visual language

Visualizing our range of expression

Our visual language needs both continuity and versatility. Especially since our brand’s communications system is expansive.

We engage with various audiences through a collection of distinct channels. That means we need the latitude to adapt our visuals accordingly.


From functional to expressive

Once you have the essential information needed to start your creative process (objective, target audience, media, etc.), it’s time to make some strategic creative decisions.

Before your visuals can take shape, consider whether it’s best for your design to take a more functional form, or whether an expressive composition will better meet the mark.

Make it sing

Remember: we aim to deliver work that captures the minds and hearts of our audience. Having the flexibility to adjust our levels of functionality and expression helps us achieve this goal, allowing us to deliver personalized executions that engage with constituents on a deeper level.

You can think of our range of expression like a spectrum. On one end, we have purely functional executions, and on the other, our most expressive. But the choice is not binary. Your piece doesn’t have to fall under one or the other—it can fall anywhere in between. And sometimes, you’ll have elements that fit both.

Let’s take a closer look at what we mean:



When you want to be direct about conveying information or asking your audience to do something, consider taking a functional approach with your visuals.

Functional executions tend to be pragmatic, clean, and simple. Design that is functional avoids decoration or embellishment, and instead attempts to persuade or educate in a straightforward way.

You might ask yourself: what is the clearest and simplest way to convey my idea?

Examples of scenarios where you’d want to employ functional design might include: 

  • Information-heavy or educational materials
  • Communications requiring immediate user action
  • Crisis situations

Functional design should:

  • Use core brand fonts
  • Limit the use of stylized graphic elements


When you want to take a more emotional route to persuading or informing your audience, consider making your piece expressive.

Expressive executions tend to be richer, bolder, or more illustrative. Design that is expressive might embrace playfulness or elaboration. Use expressive design when you want to form a connection with your audience by making them feel something.

You might ask yourself: how do I want my audience to feel in order to communicate my idea?

Examples of scenarios where you’d want to employ expressive design might include: 

  • Student recruitment or campus marketing promotional materials
  • Student-centric paid and organic social posts
  • Campaigns (your creative strategy will help inform how expressive campaign materials should be)

Expressive design can:

  • Alter core brand fonts or use an expressive typeface
  • Use color in bold and creative ways
  • Use graphic elements to create motion or connection

What if it needs to do both?

There are many times when our compositions need to be both direct and evocative—they inform or instruct our audience in a straightforward way and make them feel something at the same time.

So how do we handle this? Continue to keep important information functional, simple, and clear, while finding the right spaces to insert emotion or expression. It’s a balance, but you can do it.

For example, digital display advertisements should always have a functional Call to Action (CTA) because it makes them more effective. But you can still display your headline, or have your visuals animate in an expressive way.

Functional elements might be:

  • CTAs
  • Body copy

Expressive elements might be:

  • Headlines or subheads
  • Graphic elements

Think about how your visual elements come together

The elements you use and how you use them will determine whether your piece takes a functional or expressive form. Consider how you bring these aspects together to strike the perfect balance:

  • Color

    Color is one of our most identifiable visual elements. Explore IU’s primary, secondary, and utility color palettes.

  • Typography

    We can say a lot with our choice of type. Learn about our brand typography basics.

  • Composition

    How we arrange the elements in our layouts makes all the difference. Discover more about composition.

  • Graphic elements

    See how to build powerful visual connections with IU’s ownable graphic elements.