Do You Know the Fifth Element of Design?

When it comes to design, 1+1 does not equal 2. There is more to design than meets the eye. Quite literally. Design is about craftsmanship, where most can be learned, and some can be earned through experience. Eventually, it comes down to intuition and proper use of ‘the fifth element’ that lives in your subconsciousness.

The Five Building Blocks of Design

Every FMCG design can be broken down into five elements: Logo, Colours, Font, Pictures, and the Fifth Element. There is no way around it. Never had a client who wanted to either skip the logo, go with a grey in grey look, use Arial as a font and no background.

Perhaps you can get away with letting one of these go, but as a good designer, you have to consider all four. The one you must never skip is the final one; the fifth element.

The Distinct and Memorable Brand Flavour

The fifth element is the unique flavour of your brand design. It refers to an additional graphic part that supports all your other graphic elements as a strong, decorative identity marker. It ensures strong visual coherence across all media. The fifth element consists of a uniquely geometric and abstract alphabet and cannot be left out – ever.

Yet, not all brands have it. And to no one’s surprise, they don’t pop out on the shelves. They don’t stand out. They are not popular, and they will never be iconic. The fifth element balances all design elements, and it’s how you can orchestrate a design across all kinds of different media in all sorts of situations. It is strong yet subtle branding. It’s kind of like a logo, but discrete. Eventually, a well-designed brand doesn’t have to use the logo, the consumer still knows what brand is the sender. They’ve seen it so many times, it is simply imprinted on their brain.

The fifth element is often a subconscious element, the thing that makes it all come together and makes it recognisable even without the right context. It’s the Amazon smile, the Coke curve (bottle shaped like a woman’s curve), The Nike swoosh, the Gucci pattern, Arla’s clouds (who appears on every single product) or Paralenz’ wave.

Defining and Refining the Fifth Element

If you think you can just slap a weird shape together in Photoshop and call it your fifth element, you’ll end up being disappointed. The fifth element should reflect the melody in your brand. Your fifth element is part of a bigger concept, a bigger brand, and therefore it takes much more consideration.

So, as we do with other designs, we simplify and amplify. We distil the element and find its essence and purpose – both visually and strategically – and then we give it some growth hormone in a controlled way. We give your designers free reins to explore the possibilities.

The ideal is to create an element that is so strong, that it works even when there is no context. Just seeing the Gucci pattern reminds you of luxury. You don’t need the logo. Because in today’s world, in our internet remix culture, your brand needs the flexibility and recognisability to stand out on a tiny mobile screen and large billboards. It’s subconscious.

That is the power of the fifth element. That is the power of branding.