[The following is the introduction to Designing Identity: Graphic Design as a Business Strategy, Rockport Publishers]
In 1985 I stood atop a tall limestone boulder that leaned precariously from the top of a talus slope against a cliff face. To reach my perch I used nine-hundred-year old handholds, working my way up the few remaining yards by way of a crevice. The flat surface area on which I stood was as wide as I am tall, and twice that in length. Opposite the cliff rose a similar wall, a quarter mile to the east. It being May, Indian Creek ran strong, heading due south, 150 feet (45 meters) below, in the middle of the canyon floor. A verdant strip of small cottonwood and juniper trees bordered the creek, tapering off to the prickly pear, barrel cactus, and desert chaparral of southeast Utah. From my height there was not a sound.
At arm's length, on a small abutment forming a right-angle to the wall and facing parallel to, but away from the creek and canyon, an image had been laboriously pecked through the eon-old stone patina, exposing the lighter stone beneath. An elk, complete with net, had been carved. Though unseen from below, it would have meant much to those who knew to look for both it and its meaning. In this region where the pre-Columbian Anasazi and Fremont cultures overlapped, both peoples would have been able to understand the simple markings: a good place to hunt. Food.
At the time, I was part of a small research team documenting petroglyphs - images carved in stone - and pictographs - images painted on stone. Ostensibly, my task was to commit the images to paper before time or vandals took their toll on the rock art. For myself, I was beginning to comprehend the roots of graphic design - of visual communication - in North America.
If we look at the development of human communication, it follows a fairly simple line: ideas or thoughts lead to grimaces, grunts, and eventually speech. Symbol- making gave visual form to speech, and, in turn, developed into writing. Physicist Stephen Hawking suggests that at this point, humans no longer transmitted new information within their DNA, but externally, storing it in libraries. We have grown, in one sense or another, from cult to culture, because of communication. That may be too alliterative for some, but one root of civilization is cultivation, the tilling of land. To take it a step further, the cultivation and growing of communication, be it about planting seasons, dangers, or spiritual harmony, has been a wellspring of human advancement.
The petroglyphs served as mnemonic devices - memory aids. These aids persist in our times, though the majority no longer represent clans. Or maybe they do. Specific areas of commerce, each with their unique and often overlapping audiences, have developed languages and symbols of their own, each identifying their position in the world.
The shorthand term for these symbols is "logo." From the Greek logos, meaning "word" or, to be more specific, "the word" or "the way" in terms of cosmic reason and the source of world order and intelligibility. According to the Gospel of John, the term is used in reference to the self-revealing thought and will of God. From its simplest origin, logo refers to representation that symbolizes and communicates a meaning or idea. At its most complex and divine, it suggests a sublime essence.
While writing on the art of drawing, Alfred M. Brooks revealed an understanding of the mastery on this "sublime essence" in a thoughtful, though rhapsodic paragraph: 
The difference between good tree drawing, and transcendent, hinges wholly upon an artist's comprehension of nature's order, and the degree of his faith in, and respect for, that order. Her basic, everlasting order, her changeless course, when it comes to art, have their analogy in what is called design. It is design alone that can lift drawing, tree drawing or any other, from the plain of good to the peak of transcendency. Good tree drawing as I have defined it, and I would emphasize its rarity, is camera-minded, whereas transcendent tree drawing, Titian's, Rembrandt's, Turner's and Corot's, is creative-minded. Beneath what looks so natural . . . there is a framework or pattern . . . which, put there consciously, unconsciously affects the beholder with the same reverent and delighted feeling, close kin to worship, that he has when he looks on nature in all her infinite dispensations. Such a man bows before the infinite, and, in bowing does that infinite the supreme reverence of recognizing it as order, the reverse of all confusion. He knows that there is no incompatibility between simple and complex. He knows that each is arch enemy of disorder. And then he makes his drawing, his finite representation of an infinite subject, forest or single tree, in such a manner as shall declare glory of infinite creation by ordering his finite creation - no longer a camera-like copy, but rather an intelligent, affectionate shorthand record - by ordering his finite creation after that which is infinite. None save God and the poet deserve the name of creator, said Tasso. 
Languages may loose their meanings over time, particularly if they address a small, audience - or clan. Such specialized meaning and language, again verbal and visual, dies out when one no longer understands it. Marks, images, symbols, logos - call them what you will - that can stand the test of time are of value.
Some like the carving of the elk are clear in their inherent meaning and the story: no one stood in an obscure spot on a cliff, known only to others of the same clan, in blazing sun and chiseled away at a rock face for amusement. This was serious stuff that would benefit the "artist's" people for years to come.
At the same time, obscure abstract marks may continue to work on a different level - but only if their meaning lives on. The black and white diamond pattern that represents earth and sky to the denizens of Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, literally represents the business re-engineering diagrams of a Cambridge, Massachusetts, software firm. One thousand years and languages apart, the same mark has two meanings. Both understand inherent qualities that relate to their story, their essence.
Identity, to the early inhabitants of this continent meant kinship and the bonds associated with kinship (essential for small nomadic clans), familiarity with a geographic area and its natural resources, and spiritual belief. The Fremont and Anasazi identities were as different as their visual languages, yet motifs were borrowed and assimilated, and certainly understood to a degree.
Each painstakingly pecked or painted image held within it a story, an idea, essential to the well-being of the clan. The stories may well have been accompanied by verbal explanations, which were transferred from generation to generation, but also had to serve as a system for presenting information to newcomers to the area. These shared stories held them together.
Within each tribe or clan there were designated specialists: hunters, gatherers, basketmakers, group leaders, spiritual leaders. And though anyone could pick up a rock and hammer on a cliff face, it was more often than not left to specialists. This responsibility fell to the shaman of the tribe, whose understanding of stories, lore, and myths, was as much a part of their everyday knowledge as was flora, fauna, and the stars. Theirs was a visual language, built upon the past, but meant for the future.
And as times changed, so too did the style of symbols, with more complicated levels of information necessitating innovation. The meandering lines of Archaic times, more a means of coding information, now generally lost in meaning, gave way to clear images of hunters with atlatls, warriors with shields, and in historic times, riders on horseback. Risk became, not a matter of rendering images in difficult locations, not a matter of doing, but a matter of not-doing, of failing to act, of failing to communicate.
One thousand - give or take a few hundred - years later, from my perch on the third floor of a converted movie theater, I look out the window and see restaurants, nightclubs, office buildings, banks, and hotels. Pedestrians, tourists, people of every age, race, and religion each going about their daily business, and businesses of all kinds vying for their attention, marketing to them in their own self-image.
Hugh Dubberly, former design manager at Apple Computers, states, "If we took a survey of the steps people follow when starting a new business, we would probably find that creating a logo is in the top ten. From coffee shop to computer company, almost no self-respecting business goes to work without a logo." These businesses each rely on specific languages to relate to their audiences.
Each area of commerce is, in and of itself, a culture. Clarity in defining their identity and conveying their unique message is paramount to the success and survival of all businesses. Those who can effectively communicate their identity in a superior fashion reap the benefits. "The identification of objects, brands, and corporate entities is a significant communication strategy in a consumer society," states Sharon Poggenpohl, educator, design practitioner, and editor of Visible Language. This is not to say that the well-designed identity and its follow through manifestations are a panacea to the marketplace. But long before financial analysts, market researchers, advertising account executives, public relations agents, business strategists, legal counselors, or product and service developers entered the picture, visual communication - graphic design - was part of the everyday rhyme and reason of trade and commerce.
Design (as a language of communication) is a component that has been part of every successful enterprise. Through the ages, languages both verbal and visual have been used to communicate messages from maker to the marketplace. While messages are as varied as makers and markets, clear content-driven communication, knows no equal.
 A Note On Tree Drawing, Art and Archeology, Vol. III, No. 6, 1916, p. 347.
 Torquato Tasso, regarded as the greatest poet of the Italian High Renaissance, wrote lyric love poems and discourses on the art of poetry.
 Protecting Corporate Identity, Communication Arts, Jan/Feb 1995, p.14.
 Secondhand Culture, 1988, Society of Typographic Arts Journal, 1989, p. 47.