5 simple rules for creating brand standards that will ensure brand consistency but and not leave you redesigning them every two years
Brand standards are a great way to explain your brand and it’s components to vendors and helps ensure that the creative work you get is not only effective but consistent. But there’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, and all too often we as creatives encounter brand standards that work against their creators intent. If it’s too restrictive you can end up with the same thing over and over again. Too open or loosely defined and you have no idea just what you’ll be getting. Either way, the consumer is impacted and so are your strategic goals. So we have put together a cheat-sheet for brand standards. A guideline for your guidelines if you will, that can help you steer your brand standards away from some of the hidden pitfalls of brand identity.
1. Explain yourself
Mind-blowing I know. But remember, take some time and think about who you are, what your brand stands for, and what makes you unique. How does your identity reflect that, and why is it important to reinforce those perceptions of your brand. Write a vision statement. Establish some core values. Think about not only who you are and what you do, but what your brand represents. If your brand was a dance, what would it look like? OK, maybe that’s a little too far, but you get the idea. Define what drives your brand and get it on paper. And once you have that down, bring that idea through every aspect of your brand guidelines, from the typography to the imagery. For every design decision, ask yourself, how does this element or decision tie back to the brand story?
2. Cover the basics
Now that we know who you are, what are you made of? It’s time to take a peek under the hood. This is where you take who you are as a brand and translate that to the individual components that make your brand what it is. This isn’t just a forensic accounting of all the required elements. It’s a look at your components and an explanation of what they are, what their function is and how they reinforce the brand. What does your logo mean? Why is the official typeface the only typeface to represent your brand? What are your colors and how each one of them designed to work in harmony with everything else? It all comes back to who you are as a brand (see step 1). It’s also helpful to include a quick reference guide, so individuals using the standards get a snapshot of all the elements before diving into the meat of the document.
3. Spare the rod
The tone is a huge part of communicating to designers and creatives. Believe it or not, the guidelines will take on the attitude for the language it contains. You want to be firm and confident, but polite. Assume nothing about the audience other than they are looking for insight into your brand and how to use it effectively. Be helpful and not patronizing. The language should be aimed towards what they can and should do, not what they can’t or should never do. In fact, no isn’t all that helpful in this regard. Try to use it as little as possible. Instead explain your brand, why these guidelines exist and how to use them effectively and you’ll have a much more compliant audience.
4. Leave out the kitchen sink
There are certain things a brand guideline has to have, like logo standards, clear space rules, typeface identification, and official color palettes. Then there are the things that might be in there, like photography and image examples or tone of voice for copywriting language. Then there are the things that you rarely see like uniform requirements or layout specs down to the centimeter. You want to make sure you cover as much ground as possible with your standards, but you can create a huge problem if you try to envision every possible usage in the future. Aside from the time, it would take to create or read the guidelines you’re boxing yourself into a corner that will restrict where you might be able to go in the future. You can’t count for every possibility, so don’t try to. Be flexible and remember that if you’ve done a good job defining your brand and how the elements support it, the audience should be able to apply those principles to new situations or materials appropriately.
5. Show me don’t tell me
We can talk all day about brand statements and language, but the most effective tool at your disposal imagery. If you want to explain clear space, show me what it looks like instead of defining it and writing out math equations. What I shouldn’t do with the logo, why not include some actual examples instead of the laundry list of things I can’t change. Visuals are a great help for on-the-fly references, but they also serve to help explain why they are not preferred. The audience doesn’t have to be told why it’s not as effective because they can see it themselves. But again, don’t go overboard. There’s no need to dream up insane, impractical examples (as fun as that would be). Keep things simple and clear. Don’t forget, after an initial read-through this document will most likely be used in a quick-reference format, so make it as user-friendly as possible.
Every set of brand standards is unique, because every brand is unique, but if you can keep these 5 rules in mind when you design your guidelines, you have a better chance communicating your brand story successfully to the audience.