Brand guidelines generally accompany a logo design and are a set of rules designed to ensure consistency across all of a company’s branded materials.
All logo designers should include a set of guidelines when they deliver the final logo files, and to ensure the integrity of the company’s corporate identity, these guidelines should be passed to any designer employed to deal with the client’s branding.
Creating brand guidelines
If you’re a logo designer and you’re not providing usage guidelines with your logo designs, it’s time to start. Unless you’re an in-house designer in sole charge of that company’s branding materials, when you design a logo, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be working with this particular logo again. Make it easier on the next designer by providing a set of guidelines on how to make the most of the logo you’ve created. While this is of obvious benefit to the client, it does you no harm either to have your designs kept at their best even after your involvement in the project has ended.
So what should you include?
A basic set of brand guidelines will set out the correct usage of the logo and its variations, as well as the colours, typefaces and imagery that comprise the larger corporate identity. A more in-depth set of guidelines will include the correct application of the identity across all of the likely mediums to which the branding may be applied, and may even cover things like the ‘tone of voice’ to be used when writing copy.
It’s a good idea to make a template for a basic usage guide so that when quoting for, and designing a logo, you can allow an hour or so at the end to devise the basic advice for this logo and insert it into the template. Of course, if your client wants a more in-depth set of guidelines, this basic template will also serve as a good starting point.
For a basic guide you should include:
- The primary logo – this is the preferred version of the logo
- Variations – any alternate versions of the logo and when/where they can be used, eg single colour versions
- Colours – swatches of each colour used in the logo and their Pantone references with CMYK, RBG and Hex equivalent values
- Fonts – the font/s used in the logotype, plus any fonts or typefaces that should be used in supporting materials
- Safe zone – this is the area of white space that should be kept around the logo to ensure it has ‘room to breathe’ – no other elements of the design should be placed in this area
- Incorrect uses – point out the things that shouldn’t be done with your logo, no font substitutions, colour changes, squashing or stretching of the artwork etc
For more comprehensive guidelines, things like the treatment of photography and other imagery should be considered, along with the best way to apply the logo to all likely mediums, from stationery and websites, to other, wider applications, such as building and vehicle signage, merchandise, clothing, and other digital or on-screen media, such as CDs and DVDs.
Coping with brand guidelines
What if you’re the designer using brand guidelines that someone else devised; how do you handle them? Well, that rather depends on the company you’re dealing with.
Sometimes you’ll find that the company doesn’t actually have any guidelines; assuming they’re an established company and not a start-up you’ll look at their existing company presence – website, business cards, advertising, corporate publications, etc – in addition to asking your client all you can about what they’re looking for, what kind of colour, style etc they like.
Don’t jump right in thinking, “awesome, I’ve got an open brief, time for some ground-breaking and experimental design”; by doing your research you’re more likely to come up with something appropriate and sympathetic to their existing materials and, more importantly, something the client will love. And don’t forget to treat their logo the way you’d hope for one of your logo designs to be treated. If you wouldn’t want the font of a logo design to be changed, don’t go changing it on this one!
Other clients may provide you with brand guidelines so comprehensive that it seems every eventuality is covered. You may look at this and think it’s more like painting by numbers than actual design work, and sometimes it will be, especially if the client’s marketing department view the guidelines as a firm set of rules that must be obeyed.
Other times you may be surprised. I once worked with a set of guidelines so complete that they included a series of templates to work from. So, using the template I created a DVD menu screen and submitted the design for approval. The client came back and changed almost everything, including fonts, colours and the sizes of several elements. That particular marketing department didn’t view their guidelines as gospel, but unfortunately the final version didn’t actually look as good as the template. At least the client was happy with the final result.
You may find that the most successful results come from clients who view their brand guidelines not as gospel but as flexible and constantly evolving. The ‘rules’ then become a starting point for creativity, while the flexibility allows for unforeseen uses of the brand.
One such example springs to mind; a large company, again with comprehensive guidelines. The logo was designed to be placed on a straight edge, but the logo designer obviously hadn’t considered what would happen if the logo needed to be applied to something without a straight edge. The brand guidelines stated absolutely that the logo must be placed on a straight edge, and that straight edge must be the edge of the document.
This worked fine for printed documents, but I was designing DVD packaging. Obviously, there are no straight edges on a DVD, so the logo had to work as a floated element within the circular shape and the once this was pointed out to the marketing department, they were happy to deviate from the rules.
Evolving your own guidelines
This flexibility needs to be applied when you’re working with your own logo designs as well. Just because you wrote the guidelines, doesn’t mean that they’re going to be right for every project you work on, and they definitely won’t be valid for the next ten years. Things change, and your guidelines will need to evolve.
Of course, working with your own logos and guidelines makes you best placed to develop them. You can adapt the rules to the new medium you’re working on, without fear of the marketing department vetoing any deviation from ‘the rules’ or the original designer bursting thought your window ninja-style because you changed something.
It’s a good idea to review the brand guidelines from time to time and revise them as necessary. If you remember that they shouldn’t be a set of hard and fast rules, then you allow the brand to grow and develop, and ultimately improve.
Ready to start making brand guidelines?
Save time and impress your clients with these easy to customise templates. Consistency is key to building a recognisable brand. But once you’ve sent your client their new logo you don’t always have control over how it’s used. Use these InDesign templates to create super-helpful guidelines for your clients so they can make the most of their new logo.