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Identity and core values

Design as a mirror of the (identity of the) organization and as a catalyst for change. Central to our vision on corporate design are the core values, deeply rooted beliefs about how the organisation sees itself and what it stands for. A vision that has been the foundation of our way of designing since our start in 1992. Since then, we have helped a large number of clients rediscover or revalue their core values. A search for the soul of the company, which takes the entire organisation with it and sets it in motion.

In short, this is our vision on corporate design. In a few sentences we sketch the essence of corporate design and our way of working. For us by now so common, that we almost forgot how many discussions preceded this. About how identity and core values relate to each other, and whether core values and essence (core, spirit, soul) are the same? And why do we only use the core values as a starting point and not also the motives and ambitions, or the culture and characteristics, or other aspects of identity? One of the most intriguing questions was always: are core values unshakeable or can we replace them with other core values? In our vision we talk about 'rediscovering and/or revaluing'. That implies immutability. But the vision also talks about design as a catalyst for change. In other words, when we design a new or modified logo or corporate identity, does that still reflect the same organisation? And if so, what will change as a result of a new or adapted design? The profile, the image, the internal culture, the course or position, the policy or strategy? In order to answer these questions, we will first describe our vision in more detail below, while at the same time defining the conceptual framework more precisely.

When creating a new corporate identity, but also when it is changed, adapted and/or renewed (we will talk about the why later on), we take the corporate identity and future positioning as our starting points. In the vision statement we explicitly mention the core values, called soul in the last sentence. So there is a connection between these 3 concepts, because they are not each other's synonyms. But what is that connection? We can best explain this using the Identity Matrix we developed.


Heading #3
Core values, psyche/soul
Simple content
Beliefs, motives, ambitions

Identity matrix

Legend: The pink and blue colored concepts refer to the inner component of the personality of the organization. The orange terms are influenced or guided by the pink and blue qualities. The gray texts refer to the hard, physical, outer characteristics of the organization.

Identity more than core values

In the identity matrix, identity in the sense of person or personality is characterized on the basis of (on average 3 to 5) core values, which together -according to our definition- form the essence or soul of the organization. Drives and ambitions are often mentioned in the same breath as the core values. Concepts that together with the core values form the central body of thought of the organization. In addition, the language or tone of voice of the organization is also considered. This gives the organization a writing and speaking style that, together with presentation and behavior, form the communication style. Incidentally, this is the part that is filled in not by us as a design agency, but by a communications agency. TD Cascade works with established partners for this purpose. But that doesn't mean that the corporate identity is complete. Because the organisational culture and structure, knowledge (expertise) and skills (technology), as well as the service offering or core activity of the organisation also contribute to this. And furthermore all physical matters, such as buildings and interiors, signage, vehicle fleet, clothing and merchandise, to name the most common. 

All these things together form the identity of a company or organisation. It therefore encompasses more than just personality or core values. How the different identity characteristics relate to each other is clearly shown by the identity matrix. But this does not yet make clear why only the core values are used as a starting point or basis for the corporate design. Let us first take a closer look at the concepts of profile and positioning.

Positioning the outside view

Logo and corporate identity give the organization a face, also called visual identity or profile. This profile is used to position the organization, i.e. give it a place in the market. This means the place that the organization occupies in the mind of the consumer compared to the competition. Important here are the differences, especially the differences in values, drives and ambitions, expressed in the various missions and visions. What does one organization stand for and what does the other stand for? So positioning is actually a kind of double-whammy with the characterizations used to analyze identity. Identity is the view from the inside and positioning is the view from the outside. But it is primarily the search for the differences that makes the use of positioning as a starting point for designing the visual identity so valuable. Because by identifying what or who an organization is not, it becomes clearer what or who it is.

The self-image as a guideline

Core values and motivation together form the organization's thought process. The self-image is mainly a reflection on this: what does this mean for ourselves, our goals and environment? Culture and communication are in between inside and outside, and are both organization-specific ways of expressing themselves, of manifesting themselves. Organization-specific means that they cannot be changed just like that. They are largely determined by the underlying values, convictions, motives and ambitions. And by the self-image. Capacity, supply and presentation have, of course, been a choice in which the ideas and self-image of the organization have played an important role. At the same time, once these things are in place, they become part of the organization's identity and therefore also image-determining. They can even become part of the core of the identity, as, for example, Philips always put the technology of the light bulb at the center, and later used technology as a mission statement in their campaign slogans: "Lets make things better", "Sense and simplicity" and "Innovation and you".

The match between idea and need

But how does an identity emerge? Of course not at once at the foundation. Usually it starts with a certain idea and/or know-how. The next step is capital and additional expertise, more people and machines, and nowadays mainly computers or software. The idea often includes a certain area of application and associated target group in the form of a constituency or sales market. Because without a potentially interested group of buyers or users, starting up a company or organisation is of course pointless. This target group also has another important function. By who they are and by making a kind of estimate of their needs, the founders of the company or organisation form a picture of the what and how the supply is becoming. Incidentally, without any market research being carried out here, because in this phase almost everything is still intuitive.

Intuition as a counsellor

For example, the founder of what became NIKE, a less than successful "runner" on a college team, was determined to sell running shoes to his teammates and athletes at other universities. The shoe he had in mind had to last longer than a single race and be affordable. That was in 1962. It wasn't until 9 years later that a student friend designed the Swoosh based on one word in the brief, "movement" (and paid for with a $25 check!). That same year, the name NIKE, Greek goddess of victory, was also coined 'in haste' by one of the salesmen. The founder wanted an animal name, but a new shoe was going into production and the factory couldn't wait any longer. And so the name and logo arose more or less automatically from association with the two core values of the brand and the target group: (moving fast) and winning.

Identity and growth process

In short, a company or organization starts somewhere, takes shape, size, interpretation and meaning. What is there first and what comes later, what is essential and what is an afterthought, are usually not immediately clear, but at some point there is a company, an organization with one or more founders, a history, a building, a product, service or other offer, a buyer group, competitors, and also a name. And somewhere during this process, the need arises for structure, organization of processes, targeted marketing and promotion, and control over the future. There is a growing awareness that at the heart of all this is the company or organisation itself, who and what are we (we naturally think from within ourselves, the people who have to let the company survive), what does our company, our organisation stand for, who and what do we want to achieve, with what and when? In other words: who, what, where? With the aim of building a lasting relationship with a certain group of people, the buyers or the users of the offer.

Emotion and self-expression

Except for utensils, marketing has long been concerned not with the functionality of the product or offering, but with the emotion and self-expression or self-actualization of the customer/customer. These are not inherent in the product or service, but are created with the company or organization as the source. Offer and provider are integrated, so to speak. The offer contains the desired emotion and expression of self-expression or self-realization . In other words, the offer is the manifestation of the identity of the provider, with the aim that provider and offer become personally recognizable to the customer/customer.

It starts and ends with core values

If we now look again at the identity matrix, we see that people must be able to recognize themselves in the core values, the most personal, unique body of thought of the organization. Of course one will also agree with the motivations and ambitions, as laid down in the mission and vision, and one will also agree with the behavior and policies of the organization. But ultimately these are all derivatives of the core values, the personal convictions with which the founders developed their original idea into a company or organization and which have served as a guide in all their further choices (and those of their successors). For example, Philips' core belief from the beginning has been a "make my world easier/better/comfortable" one, with electricity and technology at its core. Hence, Philips even created its own physics laboratory. After all, it was primarily about the ideas and products, not the form or emotion. With the somewhat unfortunate result that Philips never became strong in marketing either, because sales and turnover were not the driving forces or ambitions of the Philips engineers. Looking at our other example NIKE, the famous slogan Just do It sums up in exactly these three words how NIKE came to be and what it has become. Just read the book Shoe Dog by its founder Phil Knight. The swoosh, the name NIKE, the slogan Just Do It and even the title of the book Shoe Dog summarize the essence and thus the core value(s) of NIKE and its target audience. Because also as a (top) athlete you get moving, you just do it, and you go for the win. Do and dare!

Core values are unshakeable

What a company or organization ultimately becomes has to do with an idea and conviction. Inspired by this idea with the conviction as its guide or compass, the company or organization grows (motives and goals) and gets inspired (ambitions), finds meaning (self-image) and creates a framework for its actions (policy), actions and behavior (culture). And so everything is interrelated. And by now it should also be clear why core values form the basis for corporate design. And therefore immovable! Because if you take away the core, the foundation will fall from under the house. And you will have to start building again. From a new idea and/or a different motivation. 

The need to change

But what about the questions about design as a catalyst for change, adaptation and innovation? What changes and does identity also change when design changes? There are various reasons for requesting a new or adapted design, such as a merger or takeover, a reorganisation, a change of policy or strategy, the need for a different culture, the recovery of an outdated or damaged image, a new target group and/or a new market position, but in our experience it is never about the essence of the organisation. Not even in a merger or acquisition, because even then the essence of one or both partners remains. That is why in our vision we speak of rediscovering and/or re-evaluating the core values, and not of looking for new values. Sometimes, however, the essence needs to be described in a new and different light and other core values that were not explicitly named before but that do belong to the essence are also (re)discovered. A good example of this is the KNZB (see the case). In order to bind recreational swimmers to the KNZB in addition to competitive swimmers, the KNZB had to become less administrative and more entrepreneurial. But its essence remained, namely being an umbrella body for the promotion of swimming sports in our country.

But if the essence doesn't change, what does change without affecting the core? And what about design as a mirror of the organisation, when a new design replaces the old one? Does that also change the identity? We can be brief about this. First of all, everything is allowed to change, if the situation demands it. The world, society and the market are constantly changing and companies and organisations have to adapt. Sometimes they change their name and logo, like years ago the Dutch Heidemij changed its name to Arcadis and chose a salamander as their new logo, in order to get a better grip on their markets outside the Netherlands. And sometimes an organization gets a whole new look, like the Dutch Hunting Association, because the old image aroused too much resistance (see the case). But in both cases, the new name, logo and/or corporate identity reflect the same organization with the same identity and core values, only changed after the name change and re-designing.

Visual identity more than corporate identity

We recognize an organization by more than just its core values, of course. But the core values form the common thread and are therefore recognizable in everything else. And so the visual identity is more than just the corporate identity, and also includes the clothing and behavior of the employees (in the case of airlines, even decisive for the image), the architecture of the buildings, the layout of the offices, the marketing, communication and promotional expressions, and of course the product and the packaging or the material items that are part of the service. But just as core values guide the self-image, the corporate culture and the corporate identity, so the corporate identity guides the design of all physical and/or material matters.

There's not one perspective

Identity and visual identity, inside and outside are each other's mirror image and influence each other. In principle, the same applies to visual identity and image. In principle, because there is always so-called 'noise' between sender and receiver, partly because sender and receiver each look through their own glasses, but also because of external actors and actors that influence perception and image. If necessary, it is important to adjust the image, but this must be done carefully, that is, the organization must always remain itself and credible. In such a case, bringing in a design and/or communication agency is no superfluous luxury. The examples on our site will hopefully have demonstrated this sufficiently. Business is about moving and changing in time. By keeping a finger on the pulse and renewing the corporate identity and communication tools in a timely manner, the organization remains current and 'in touch' with its environment.

The origins and culture

Finally, a word about core values. Core values, in our definition, are the deepest beliefs about who the organization is and what it stands for. Core values are anchored in the native soil, ancestry, national culture, history and beliefs (or non-beliefs) of the founders. That nationality and place of existence play an important role becomes clear when we look, for example, at the identity of KLM and Air France or at the high-tech companies of Silicon Valley or the difference between Hollywood and Bollywood films. But ideology and faith can also be decisive factors, think for example of the differences in programming, outward appearance and tone of voice of VARA or VPRO, the first still socialist and a tad moralistic, the other intellectual and challenging. Broadcasters who, incidentally, would never catch on in other countries or cultures. At their core they are too Dutch, too free-spirited and free-spirited and impertinent. These are core values that reflect the essence and, for that reason, are immutable. They are therefore clearly different values from corporate or instrumental values, which can be adapted and changed as the situation demands. An important difference that should not go unmentioned when explaining our vision and the identity matrix.

The essence of TD Cascadertoe

We have elaborated on our vision above: first know who you are, then show who you are. Searching for the essence, the values or convictions that give company or organisation its unique meaning. In other words, the body of thought with which the client writes history and builds a bridge to its target groups and environment. This is what our logo and corporate identity design is based on. Over the years, we have perfected our method of translating the identity into form, colour, typography and images. And the client may, no must, think and choose along with us. After all, it is about his core, his identity. TD Cascade is there to help discover that core and to transform it into recognisable design that moves people and makes their company or organisation successful again. That is the core of our philosophy. That is the essence of TD Cascade.