Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Charles Kostelnick


Companies rely on corporate visual identity (CVI), a collection of visual elements, to unify their communications and suggest a corporate persona. Start-up companies must quickly capture the attention of their audience and create ethos if they hope to be successful. Yet little is known about how start-ups create their CVI and use it for professional communication. Although the issues behind CVI—audience, ethos, visual rhetoric, and persuasion—are all very rhetorical, the topic has not yet received much attention in rhetoric or professional communication. Most of the existing research in marketing and graphic design focuses on large, well-known organizations with visual identities created by professional designers.

Using a theoretical framework based upon ethos, social construction, and visual rhetoric, this qualitative research study examines how start-up businesses develop CVI and use it to establish corporate ethos. Using document analysis and interviews with graphic designers, marketing specialists, and entrepreneurs from the Midwest, this study suggests that entrepreneurs recognize the informational and persuasive purposes of CVI but that they are not always able to implement the CVI consistently. The development and implementation of their CVIs indicated several common constraints: using personal experience and intuition rather than audience analysis, a lack of experience in design, limited technical skill and access to appropriate software, and reliance upon friends and family for assistance. The visual techniques used in their promotional documents suggest that the start-ups want to attract readers' attention and project a sense of order in their documents. Unfortunately, some of the designs are self-defeating because they present too much information, lack focal points and whitespace, and display cautious, structured layouts rather than spontaneous, unexpected ones.

These results demand a renewed emphasis on visual rhetoric in professional communication classrooms, including instruction in both theory and execution via technology. Visual elements are more than illustration: they communicate messages that can explain, reinforce, or even contradict the documents that contain them. By studying visual rhetoric in the workplace, particularly cases in the margins like start-up businesses, we can refine our understanding of its use by writers and its impact on readers.


Copyright Owner

Jennifer R. Veltsos



Date Available


File Format


File Size

126 pages