Ben Gilman

Eight illustrated tips for better brand guidelines

I’m currently working on visual identity as part of new brand guidelines for a new venture. As part of this I embarked on one of those Google search sessions hunting for a blog post I’d once read that included a list of publicly-available corporate visual identity documents. As part of this search I found an entirely different but equally useful article on Identityworks which both lists the all-important PDFs and adds some priceless extras…

Kuyper’s eight essential qualities for effective brand guidelines

This post expands on brand identity expert, Jerry Kuyper’s eight “qualities to achieve in identity standards.” They struck a chord with me, highlighting many issues I’ve run into with corporate identity documents in the past. So, how do the best brand guideline documents exhibit these qualities?

1. strategic

“Focus on why it is important and what the company is trying to achieve, not just how to do it.”

This is great advice and put into practice by the beautiful (but expensive) I Love NY brand guidelines. Down from the logos to the execution of the illustration, every decision has a reason (good or bad - you decide!) behind it that is clearly explained. In many situations the buy-in from implementers is key to the success of brand guidelines.

Explaining what can otherwise look like draconian direction is vital.

2. visual

“Demonstrations are often more effective than lengthy text.”

The guidelines for the venerable University of Cambridge do this well with their imagery section - yes, there’s a clear text description but in this case only one media can effectively communicate the style required: example photos.

3. easy to understand

“Develop content that is engaging and avoid unnecessary jargon.”

Rather than attempt to communicate the linguistic style and how it applies to individual words, the guidelines for the equally venerable Cunard use a simple table of words to make it crystal clear how choice of words applies to the effect of their brand.

Even to a casual observer this is an accessible and interesting list - which means the people who need to be interested are happy to read it.

4. short

“20 pages of useful information may be more effective than 50 pages.”

The brand guidelines for the building initiative Think Brick run to a grand total of 13 pages. Whilst the brand is a simple one, its difficult to find a wasted word across those pages. In fact the grab above is probably the closest example. Even then its a simple representation that branded products should carry the logo and adhere to the guidelines already set out.

Rather than attempt to cover every possible eventuality in your guidelines keep it short and refer enquiries to an expert within the company.

5. respectful

“Understand who will be using the standards and don’t insult their intelligence.”

Lloyd’s put this one into practice. For the most part it’s fair to accept that those reading the finer points of logo usage guidelines are likely to be familiar with the terminology of print design. Pitch it at their level.

Having said that, striking a balance between this and “avoid unnecessary jargon” is a challenge.

6. balanced

“Identify the appropriate balance between structure and flexibility”

Keeping the ‘balance’ of a brand guideline document is very much a case of judging the requirements of the document and the brand in question.

My example is from Channel 4’s digital TV station, E4 - instead of specifying exactly how the effect of the logo as a sticker is achieved the guidelines simply set out that “it must retain some dimensionality.” This guidance leaves the exact execution in the hands of the designer and allows variety into the brand without losing sight of the purpose and effect.

7. digital

“…pdf files that can viewed online, emailed or downloaded and printed the standards can eventually be established as an online identity resource”

For a behemoth organisation like the UK’s NHS an online version of their brand guidelines is essential - the above is a grab from their branding microsite where they can quickly publish amendments and special guidance for specific audiences.

A printed brand book may look nice on the bookshelf but quickly becomes outdated and hard to come by.

8. scalable

“…can be expanded or revised help to establish that identity management isn’t a static or one time event”

In many ways this is an extension of the above and cements the case for your brand guidelines being a digital document. When a video execution of a brand is required a printed document detailing the page templates and paper choice for letterheads is not appropriate.

Brand guidelines should be ready to be speedily and easily updated for any eventuality - from 3D animation to the introduction of Blade Runner-esque advertising blimps.

In conclusion

Jerry Kuyper’s eight points are excellent benchmarks against which to measure your own brand guidelines document. Hopefully the examples above have shown how they can be applied and will inspire you to develop more useful and just plain better brand guidelines.

Any thoughts? Post them in the comments down there…

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