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How much information should be contained within your brand guidelines?

Eightyone Design brand guidelines

A little while ago I was given a project and confidently told “Don’t worry it won’t take you long, we’ve got brand guidelines” With a spring in my step I opened the email and glanced down at the lonely half page of A5 which was their guidelines. Needless to say the brand guidelines left something to be desired and consisted of a logo, the correct pantone colours, and accompanying font. As you can imagine the project took longer than hoped as they didn’t have any consistent form of branding and I wasn’t given sufficient information as to what was required. However, we got there in the end and the client was more than happy with the final piece.

On the other end of the scale, after completing the above project, I was handed a whopping 32 page comprehensive brand guideline from another client. This guideline not only gave me a logo and a font but also how to use the logo, how to use images (including how to position text over an image), what colours to use on headers and sub headers and what colours should be used for prices etc etc. I had no room to move what so ever. This was fine until they gave me an image to use that didn’t fit in with their brand guidelines and we had many a conversation on how to make this work whilst fitting in with their strict guidelines. It felt like these guidelines were ruling us with an iron fist, rather than merely guiding us.

Brand guidelines or corporate identity manuals are not merely a few notes scrawled on the bag of a fag packet, nor are they a bible which can be found covered in dust acting as a door stop. They are acting guidelines to show how to physically portray the companies brand. They should be an acting part of any company and should evolve over time with constant updates being made to them. The brand guidelines should preferably be found sitting on a thrown alongside their royal counterparts – the business and marketing plan.

This got me thinking just how much information should go into brand guidelines?

If your brand guidelines can fit neatly onto the back of a post it note then there is not enough information and it probably shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘guideline’. If the brand guidelines are non existent then potentially every piece of corporate work produced for the company could have a completely different look or style therefore effecting your brand consistency ie YOUR REPUTATION!

On the other hand, if your brand guidelines resemble a concrete slab in that of size and weight then there may be too much information in there. You may find that you run the risk of people not even looking at your brand guidelines. Also, from personal experience, no matter how large your brand guidelines are there is always an exception to the rule. You could  find yourself being a slave to your own guidelines to make these exceptions fit.

We think brand guidelines should be flexible and (funnily enough) do just as the title would suggest – be a guide. There will always be an exception somewhere down the line, but as a whole they should give a helping hand to designers and allow the brand to maintain consistency at all times. We believe brand guidelines should at least contain the following:

  • Logo guidelines – how the logo should be used (ie different size, different layout, padding and spacing, pantones etc)
  • Font guidelines – Which fonts, at what size (including tracking and leading etc), and in what colours.
  • Distinctive graphics – If any distinctive graphics are used, illustrate how these should be used
  • Examples of previous work – Plenty of examples of previous work to demonstrate the guidelines

This is the bare minimum, these guidelines can then be applied to the relevant media.

As previously mentioned once brand guidelines are set up they can assist not only the designers, but also ensure the company stays on track by portraying the right message to the target audience. That’s not to say these guidelines are set in stone, not at all, these guidelines are created to evolve and move with the company until finally the day comes when they have served their purpose and they are finally shelved, to then be replaced with newer, trendier branding.

What are your experiences with brand guidelines? Do you find them a help or a hinderance? Do people stick to them or are they huge documents that don’t even get opened?

Posted by Lu

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Posted on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 at 2:20 pm
Posted In Branding, Graphic Design | Tags: , , ,

6 Responses to “How much information should be contained within your brand guidelines?”

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  • Rachel says:

    As someone who has to enforce our brand and work within it, I find it helpful. I even find the short one pagers to be helpful. When it was first given to us though I spent a whole year before I found the ways I could be creative within it.

    It is quite strict, so it is brilliant for our staff. It means they really have to think about the content more than the design.

    But I do find that even if I send out the brand guidelines they don’t get read. We have language included as part of ours.

  • Lu says:

    Rachel – I am glad to hear that you have found ways to be creative within your strict brand guidelines.

    I think the great thing with strict guidelines is that it is a good way to manage teams of designers allowing everyone to be on the same page and on track!

  • Rachel says:

    It is really good for us as a lot of our staff who are creating posters are not designers but librarians.

    It means rather than saying the design isn’t very good I can say it doesn’t adhere to the guidelines. It becomes less personal too.

    And as a company we look and sound unified and professional.

  • Lu says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Interesting that brand guidelines can be a tactful way of letting someone know their work isn’t particularly good. As you’ve quite rightly mentioned as a company you will look unified and professional.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Lu

  • shola Adekoya says:

    Hello Lu,thanks on the piece,the brand manual or guide is essentially one of the priceless asset a Brand(company) could have,its worth every bit of investment.
    Thank you.

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