One of the skill sets that design agencies need to be able to employ successfully is working within existing brand guidelines, particularly with well-established clients. Often these guidelines have strict compliance around how their brand assets can be used and it takes real skill to be able to push creative boundaries whilst adhering to a set of rules and regulations to how that brand can be rolled out onto marketing material.
What exactly are brand guidelines and why should you use them? Simply put brand guidelines set out to provide a set of design rules to guide the use of all brand assets (logo, colour palette, typography, photography, icons, infographics etc.) to ensure consistency across all marketing mediums. The correct use of brand assets is however not the only point of a style guide. The creative tone, mission statement and personality of the company also needs to be outlined, this ensures that everyone employed within that organisation is on board with the company culture, and expectations around the brand (staff included as part of this) is clearly outlined for all to follow.
A strong well thought through brand guideline can be a real boon for any company or organisation, it gives the agency or designer working on their marketing material a head start in understanding the creative tone and messaging of the piece they are designing and can really clarify the brief direction. It’s so much easier to communicate the messaging of a design piece when that message is spelt out clearly in a set of guidelines. There are however some obvious restrictions and limitations from working with guidelines that an agency needs to identify then push beyond. Creatively it’s important not to be stifled by a set of apparently rigid rules and regulations, it’s a real skill to know how to find the creative loopholes and experiment with new ideas whilst still keeping the project on brand.
It’s also important that the agency is supported by the client in keeping the brand fresh and evolving. Guidelines need to inform the design direction but they shouldn’t be the end point, guide or no guide designs needs to keep evolving. Rehashing the same design formulae based on a style guide is a sure fired way of stagnating a brand. It is a challenge but there’s nothing more designers relish than a design challenge and having the opportunity to be clever in finding their inspiration within the restrictions of a brief, design problem or style guide.
Having an open brief with no confines or restrictions to help inform and guide the design process can be akin to writer’s block, where too much unfocused choice is overwhelming and paralysing. With no guidance the design process can easily steer off course, blowing out timelines and budgets. With a strong brand guideline a designer can be razor sharp in their design direction. With a set of instructions, goals and rules as the focal point, design inspiration can really flourish without spinning in a directionless exploration that doesn’t support the brand.
As a client your mission is to support your design agency in exploring the boundaries of your style guide, don’t be afraid to give some leeway here to challenge the status quo, your brand will thank you for it. As a designer you can find a brand’s “True North” and set off on your own design adventure with your trusty style guide in hand. Challenging the rules and pushing the boundaries will make you a better designer and a result you will create clever, engaging and relevant design.