It is rare that an old book about “contemporary” graphic design can stand the test of time. Although there are timeless truths, the language, styles and conception of design shifts over time. So a book like “The Corporate Search For Visual Identity” by Ben Rosen (Van Nostrand, 1970), may feel a little musty when revisited almost fifty years later. Surprisingly, while some of it is out-of-date, the fundamental content of this book remains viable and useful. Moreover, most of the identities are still identifiable and in use.

Of course, some of what was called “visual identity” is now under the B-b-b-b-branding umbrella, but much of what Rosen (b.1920), the author of the still in print “Type and Typography” and former head of his own design firm, is beyond relevant. As a one who writes about design history, I recommend the book and Rosen’s thinking. “There is an ambivalence about visual identity,” he wrote. “On the one hand, there is the physical, measurable, recordable appearance of the corporation, which is represented by color, line, shape, texture, and the general relationship of its element. On the other hand, there is the intangible ‘visible feel,’ which conveys elusive ideas such as stability, strength, dependability, alarm and appeal. ”

He added “Visual identity becomes a meaningful component that profoundly effects the countless ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decisions that, big or small, important or insignificant, rational or impulsive all combine to direct the course of our business-based lives.”

If you can find a library copy . . . read it.

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