Thoughts on Brand Guidelines

The Guidelines Book

We often do full-blown brand guidelines “books” for our clients. Generally they’re for extensive branding programs with secondary visual graphics beyond the logo or for larger clients with a lot to cover. That might include numerous subbrands or extensive information beyond the visual brand—things like mission statements or requirements for writing in the “brand voice”. An example with all those things is shown above, which we did with IfNotNow for Fielday.

Sometimes when building a new brand, the guidelines document becomes an important (or the first) opportunity to establish the look and feel. A marketing manager might use this as a chance to lay out a new manifesto, while the designer may use it as a chance to work out the design ideas for the brand. But this isn’t the guidelines’ strong suit, since any attempt to give the designer or writer enough to sink their teeth into runs the risk of making the piece bloated or distracting.

Back in the day, there was a reason brand standards manuals were so fat. It was often necessary for vendors outside the organization to recreate the logo from scratch, or work with scant resources (hardcopy sheets of the logo were provided within the guidelines binder to literally be cut out and pasted into layouts, as seen to the left, via The Standards Manual). And those vendors had to implement the brand on their own with little information beyond what was detailed in the book. Those days are long gone. Not only do infinitely scalable digital files eliminate the need for elaborate diagrams showing the construction of the logo, they contain all necessary elements (like color and type) and are in universal formats suitable for everything from illuminated signs, to CMYK printing, to embroidery. And in the current connected world, there’s no reason to guess or interpret: someone with the answer or an example is only an email or a text away.

Of course, guidelines documents can still become lengthy—if a brand’s visuals include a lot of tricky graphic treatments or special customized text that require some “How To”-like sections, for example. Even a document covering just the core identity can get long, but we believe in keeping guidelines documents as succinct as possible. That said, below is evidence that we’re still suckers for a cool—if not strictly necessary—logo construction diagram, as long as it doesn’t make things tough for a vendor simply looking to find a CMYK value or an example of the logo in use.



The One-Pager

With this newfound ease of use, there are now more ways than ever for someone to implement a logo incorrectly—and more people capable of doing it. So there is definitely a need for some guidance. Luckily, in most cases, all the critical information can be conveyed in a pretty compact document. In fact, a one-pager should suffice for most brands just getting started. Not only does that make it easier to find important info, it means a guidelines document isn’t out of reach for a smaller client or a smaller budget.

We’ve become fans of the “cheat sheet” style illustrated here by the recent Girl Scouts redesign by OCD. It’s also become popular to imagine the one-sheet approach as a poster, like the two examples below. But expecting someone to hang this up anywhere in the office is unrealistic, so as long as it functions as an emailable PDF, it’s still effective. But the idea is sound: illustrate the core rules for correctly using the logo to maintain a strong brand. Introduce the logo and show its variations, the brand’s color breakdowns, and accompanying typography. These larger examples manage to squeeze in secondary graphics and some examples, too.

We recently established a very basic guidelines document that can be included with any logo we do. An example is below. It covers the essentials for using the logo without complicating the matter. We may find that it is too basic—perhaps merely saying what the “don’ts” are isn’t enough, and we actually need to show a stretched logo and a chrome-ified logo with slashes through them. But it feels like a useful document and can at least form the “v. 1” that a client can have fleshed out further down the road.

To see a random assortment of brand guideline examples we’ve gathered, visit our Pinterest page.

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