The components of brand guidelines
Driving around town with my husband I started giving a design critique of the political lawn signs that were staked in the ground.
There’s a young incumbent state senator, Will Haskell, who definitely needs some design love as well as figuring out what direction he is going in. We have incumbent congressman Jim Himes who’s stuck in the 90s with his Nike swoosh take-off. And a hopeful Kim Healy who has much more than one needs on a lawn sign. Of course, we have our fair share of Biden signs and a smattering of Trump signs.
What all of these signs have in common is that they’ve probably been designed by someone. What do their campaigns not have in common? They do not seem to have Brand Guidelines. If you hop to their websites the inconsistency is blaring.
On my blog, I talk a lot about graphic design and process. I often refer to Brand Guidelines, but I haven’t put “pen to paper” to share why the guidelines are so important.
I believe these guidelines, when professionally executed, are essential for companies of all sizes, non-profits, events — and even politicians. The guidelines ensure a consistent style. Here’s a closer look at what these guidelines are and why they’re important to not only your business, but all of your outward and inward-facing marketing materials.
What are Brand Guidelines?
Brand Guidelines are basically the instruction manual for your brand. I like them because I’m the kind of person who reads instructions when we get something that needs to be assembled — unlike my husband who does a great job but always has leftover screws. Guidelines are detailed to include the visuals (logos, colors, fonts), and can include the company’s voice, tone, and messaging.
The components of brand guidelines aren’t standard. I’ve created mini guidelines like this one for The Prediction Suite. I was able to find the brand guidelines for Joe Biden before Ms. Harris joined his campaign. They used mini guidelines as well.
Many brands have extensive guides like this one I created for the University of Oxford Schwarzman Centre. Most organizations utilize brand guidelines as a resource to ensure that the brand remains consistent across all touchpoints.
Why Brand Guidelines Matter
Guidelines are essential for maintaining consistency across all aspects of the brand. Keeping your brand consistent allows it to be more recognizable within your industry and with your target audience. Consistency helps your brand appear more professional and reliable.
Your guidelines should be composed of rules on how to use your brand’s visual elements. Have you seen a logo that looks stretched out or appears in the wrong colors? Whoever did that probably worked without guidelines or blatantly ignored the ones given!
What do brand guidelines include?
Guidelines can vary between companies (and politicians) and can be anything from one to hundreds of pages long. I believe these three elements are the most important.
This section will include the different layout and color variations of the logo (if any) and how it should be used across a variety of applications. More detailed guidelines will outline size and spacing requirements as well as what not to do (such as do not stretch your logo, do not change the colors).
Color consistency for your brand used on all materials and platforms will ensure all colors match perfectly. This could include which colors to use when, and how your logo should be displayed on different backgrounds. Look back at the Biden mini guidelines and you will see how they handle the color options. I generally give the main palette and one or two alternate palettes. Colors are given as CMYK values and Pantone numbers (for print), RGB values (for digital), and the Hex Reference (for web).
Typography (for all of you non-designers: fonts)
Typography will outline the different lettering styles used in association with your brand, including weights (bold, thin, wide, italic), alignment, and styling. I like to show the main typefaces, and then what to use for promotional work, for something appearing online, or in a Word doc.
Not all fonts are created equal nor can they be used across platforms. When I do a branding project I usually create custom letters, so I put the typography that matches the closest. I like to use Google fonts which are cross-platform and free to use.
More detailed brand guidelines can include:
- Introduction: This can include business values, mission statement, brand personality, and client personas.
- Voice: The tone of voice describes how your brand communicates with its audience and can influence how people perceive your messaging. Your company’s tone of voice represents your brand personality and values.
- Graphic elements: Elements used separately from the logo which evoke your brand personality. These can be characters, social media icons, vector graphics, icons, shapes, patterns, or just general document styling.
- Stationery: Letterheads, business cards, envelopes, labels, and maybe even PowerPoint templates, to ensure they always remain the same. I am not a big Microsoft user but often create PowerPoints and letterhead in Word as part of a branding project. I have learned how to make sure custom fonts appear in editable files which have made my life and the life of my clients easier.
- Image styling: The content and quality to use, as well as any visual styling/manipulation to any images. For the University of Oxford Schwarzman guide, we have a page for photography guidelines since images are appearing as duotones (2 colors making up the image). We felt the duotone photo conveys an idea (e.g.“music auditorium”) without an unsupportable degree of specificity.
- Signage and clothing: I love throwing a tote bag and event signage into the guidelines I develop. Any items you include here will show how the brand should be represented on external materials.
- Digital Styling: Everything from email signatures and banner ads to web pages and social media campaigns.
Ready to breathe life into your brand?
Whether you’re building a brand from scratch or want to refresh your existing image (next election I, creating brand guidelines should be one of the first steps. It helps you focus your company’s mission, voice, and directive in one cohesive manner and builds consensus across your team members as to how to address different design or customer situations.
As a graphic designer not only do I like using brand guidelines, but I love creating them too. At Ruzow Graphics, we know that the right brand guidelines can help create a strong and powerful brand personality which in turn creates brand value.
If you want to discuss creating your brand guidelines to help you maintain a strong, cohesive, and distinguishable brand, let’s talk!
RABBIT HOLE: The Biden Harris logo was updated by type designer Jonathan Hoefler who was working blind not knowing who the former VP would choose as his VP. Hoefler said “A consequential decision at an unpredictable time, conducted under absolute secrecy, poses an interesting dilemma to the typographer: how do you create a logo without knowing for certain what the words will say? Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an Eisenhower will hardly work for a Taft. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.” Once the VP was chosen the logo was revealed — I have yet to see updated brand guidelines. Trump has said, “You do not need a graphic design house to develop your logo, ideally, your logo should be unique.” Unique is something graphic designers do well - so - yeah, okay… Compare both candidates to Brand Obama which was so well done that President Barack Obama was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year, the first time a politician won such an award.