Brand Guidelines 101
Jim Dines, January 16, 2014
A brand is a visual representation of an organization or business, its mission and, usually, its products and services. It’s the corporate image shown to the outside world that represents that entity. The brand includes logos and other identifying marks, typefaces, colors, taglines and any other elements used to create the perception of the image of the business.
In order to create that perception, the components of the brand need consistent usage, and to maintain consistency and brand integrity there is often a set of rules for usage and a guidance manual that assists in understanding the rules.
A lot of thought, time and money go into developing the brand. Decisions are made on a spectrum of issues that include colors, fonts, photography, even grammar and language usage, among other things. Brand guidelines need to be simple but thorough enough that a range of people, from professionally trained designers to interns, can understand and use them. With so many graphic design platforms today, printed literature, packaging, web, social media, to name a few, an over-arching unity system needs to be in place.
That said, brands must have room to take risks and grow. A good set of brand guidelines is flexible but keeps core principles in tact. A collaborative approach to branding, more inspiring for designers, results in a more thoughtful and engaging end-user experience.
Without core principles a brand becomes a modified version of itself, morphing its image to a designer’s whim but a brand that is too strict stunts creativity and quickly renders design irrelevant. The net result being stunted brand growth.
A great example of creative use of a brand is Coca Cola. For Coke, their brand is so important that “Design” is an organizational unit within the company. Their approach to branding brings balance, coherence and flexibility. And their brand is very much alive. Coca Cola is instantly recognizable worldwide, and yet very “different” among many platforms. Their brand guidelines allow logo variations, color variation within a strict palette, simple as well as complex design construction and they even allow for some tampering with their signature swoosh, something most companies would consider heretical. But it works. Seriously.