running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Dull + Crucial = Branding Guidelines

Sunday, 15 February 2009

For students, Corporate Identity can seem like the dullest area of Graphic Design. The two words together conjure up a sort of paranoia about conformity and business that saps their creative energy. Give them briefs for book covers, double-page spreads, funky websites and posters and they lap it up. Who wants to trawl through mind-numbing marketing material, and work on bland company brochures, black & white logos and sterile letterheads?

But Corporate ID is the real bread and butter of commercial design. Its the one thing designers produce that all businesses and organisations truly believe in - from Tattoo Parlours to City Brokerages to Governments. And that means clients are always willing to use a slice of their budgets to get it done right. And when its done right, Corporate ID can eventually transcend its original purpose and become iconic design -think Levis, Adidas, Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, etc etc.

As an example, my current Year 2 HND class are out on work placement for 3 weeks - gaining valuable industry experience at many of Edinburgh's top agencies - and all of them have been working on Corporate ID projects.

So for all sorts of reasons, its important for graphic designers to see Corporate ID as a creative challenge. It also helps to be able to read and interpret a set of Brand Guidelines correctly.

These are the documents that show how a logo design and its supporting visuals should be used. Guidelines are there to provide cohesion for customer, supplier, employee and investor in any organisation.

I'll be the first to admit that a quick flick through a set of Brand Guidelines can often set your boredom meter twitching into the red. Pages of marketing lingo and some very strict colour and useage rules all seem to strangle the life out of the visuals. It doesn't help that sometimes the documents themselves are poorly laid out and really bland (but therein lies good paying work for competent designers).

But then, the brand guidelines are supposed to be fairly rigid - its about efficiently obtaining the necessary info on how to apply the brand across any marketing communication material - whilst allowing just enough creative freedom.

Typically you should expect to pay attention to these main aspects -

Logo specification
Specifying the exclusion areas, the use of clear space, and the context of logo placement and its preferred scaling. Good exclusion is typically the height of an uppercase letter in the wording.

Logo exclusion Zones

Logo application
The primary colourway, black and white versions, single colour.

Colour palettes
The core palette and the various Pantone, CMYK, RGB and web colour values.

The various font families stylings and sizings that should be used.

How copy should read when its included alongside any corporate visuals. This is crucial if you are supplying straplines or information, and its vital as part of the brand's audience reach.

Quality specifications. These should be familiar to all designers - resolution, formats, sizing etc.

Icons and their usage across various platforms, especially the web.

A series of example implementations that demonstrate how a competent graphic designer or marketer can apply the guidelines across a wide range of communication materials.

Branding Guidelines should also show designers and copywriters what NOT to do - but any good creative will already be aware of these basic editing and formating errors.

Awesome Example:
Easy Group (pdf)

Corporate ID Catalogue