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How do you make brand guidelines?

August 7, 2019

This article provided by Ueno.

Back in the day, creating a brand guidelines used to be a much simpler process. We’ve gone from a world where the competitive landscape and its dynamics were so simple and slow, to one where they are extremely dynamic, unpredictable and crowded.

The purpose of a brand guidelines is consistency. Many parties will be touching the brand—both internal and external—so it’s very important to define a set of rules for all of them. Customers are more savvy these days, and expect a brand to show up in a cohesive manner. A brand lives on mobile screens, in social, on the web, in the streets, in TV and film, and even the traditional business card. All touch points matter. It’s a confusing world out there, Ivan, people respond well to a brand that’s rolled out consistently.

Disclaimer: There are many methods and approaches. I encourage you to explore different possibilities—whatever serves your client best. I’m am just one creative director in a world with millions of other creative directors. So take my version of the gospel with a grain of salt.

Step 1 — Draft your content outline

The first thing to do is draft an outline of the elements that need to be communicated to anyone who’s planning to create something involving the brand. Always run this by your client and gain approval. The high level basics, are not limited to, but may include the following:

– Introduction
– Strategy overview
– The logo
– Brand architecture (if applicable)
– Color palette
– Typography
– Brand elements
– Photography
– Identity in context
– Tone of voice

Step 2 — Define your user

Next up, define your primary audience. Ask yourself “Who is the end user of this beauty?” Typically this will be the internal brand and communications team. Also, high on the list is any external 3rd party vendor said brand may encounter (print vendors, web developers, advertising partner, PR firm, etc.)

The single most important thing an agency does is to provide the client with a healthy amount of bravery when launching the brand into the wild. Put another way, the role of a design studio (or freelancer) for a brand launch or rebrand, is to set your client up for success on day 1, and more importantly, 3–5 years into the future.

“Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.”

In life, as a rule of thumb, I prefer to measure twice and cut once. So I tend to over-communicate the details. What may seem obvious to me and you may not be as obvious to others. You want to allow anyone who views the guidelines to understand how to use them and how to deploy the brand properly. You do that and you’ve done your job.

We’ve all heard the saying “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.” Nothing can be more true when on-boarding the client to their shiny new brand guidelines.

Step 3 — Choose a format

Next up, after you’ve shared the content outline and defined your intended audience, discuss the format in which the client wants the guidelines delivered. Do they want a printed poster? Maybe they prefer the more common PDF that gets updated every time something new gets made? Traditionally, a brand guideline document was called a ‘Brand Book’ —because it was literally printed and put in a spiral binder. Look at that beauty below!

‘Graphics Standards Manual’ is just a fancy name for a brand guidelines

Currently, the standard operating procedure in brand guideline creation is to circulate PDFs via email or a link to Dropbox. It’s a totally broken way to work. This method suffers from version control, which is the exact moment where brands often get lost in translation.

The good old days of print and PDF-ing

If you think about it, all modern brands are natively digital these days. In my humble opinion, the best solution is a web-based approach that is open to the public and allows for anyone to view the brand assets and download said assets as needed. Ueno has adopted this approach and we’re never going back.

Think of it as an ‘Open-Source Guideline’ that lives online, it becomes accessible to anyone who knows their way around the web.

Step 4 — Design the damn thing

Get started. Set up your first slide, the index. There’s a good chance it will change, so be prepared. If you’re reluctant to change (shame on you!) and prefer to go old-school with a Keynote PDF, be sure to set your file up as an ‘Interactive PDF’ and make each item in the index a clickable link that allows viewers to fast-forward to any of the sections within the document.

Moving on, you can choose to create each slide in Illustrator, save each file, import into the application of your choice or you can simply copy and paste the vector assets directly into the program. There is no right or wrong way, but depending on your format (Keynote or InDesign) you may find you have more control of the details by creating each page as a linked asset.

Wait, there’s more!

A few extra tips & tricks based on nearly two decades of experience.

Introduction: Be sure to start the document with a nicely worded intro that communicates the purpose of the guidelines so people take you seriously.

Brand Strategy: Keep it short and to the point. Don’t force people to read too much up front. Just focus on Purpose, Promise, Values.

The logo: This section is typically the most robust. Start with an overview of the logo. Big and proud without any spec callouts. Then document and explain the architecture. Define minimum sizing for print and digital. Don’t forget to provide rules around clear space.

Now define the unapproved uses of the logo. This page is my favorite. It includes visual examples of ways that people could potentially violate the logo (colors, drop shadows, putting it in a weird holding shape etc). Imagine your worst nightmare of someone stretching or skewing your logo. The shame! The horror! Well, it happens. But not on your watch.

Color palette: Show the color palette in a way that illustrates the “weight” of your color usage — which colors are the big stars, and which ones play supporting roles. Provide Pantone® chips and CMYK for print, RGB and HEX for screens. Additionally, now is a good time to show approved usage of logo color variations paired with your color palette.

Typography: Perhaps one of the most important parts of any brand identity system is the typography. You’ll want to treat this section in a way that demonstrates the beauty and functionality of each typeface. I like to showcase the primary typeface as if it’s an image from the marketing site of the type foundry— have fun with it. After you’ve geeked out on the type, begin to break down the primary font into the various weights, displayed from light to bold. Your secondary typeface needs to be defined just as prominently. Now, when the client inevitably says, “So, we use Google Slides company-wide, and we need a font that looks the same as this cool new font you made us license,” be prepared to document free Google fonts as well as a link to download. Lastly, always be sure provide a mention to the type foundries that designed the fonts in your brand’s system.

Brand elements: This is the section to illustrate and describe what I like to call a brand’s “kit of parts.” These are design system elements like iconography, your grid system, data visualization, or illustration style. Basically anything created beyond the logo that helps support the visual language. You know the drill.

Photography: If you are fortunate enough to have a client sign off on content creation, bravo! Original photography can really help your brand stand out. You want to have a dedicated content team busy making still and moving images. From conceptual still life photos, 3D images, to people collaborating at work in their environment (not pointing and smiling at screens), to simple leadership portraits — all the imagery should be displayed as final output with post-production retouching completed.

Identity in context: Finally, now it all comes together! The strategy, logo, color, typography, iconography, illustration, photography, and tone of voice working as a larger ecosystem. You’ve somehow managed to pull it off. Take a minute to let that sink in. Ok, now get back to work because you’re not done yet. You need to finish strong. The guidelines will be seen by a lot of eyes – from a creative director to an intern they hire this summer. You need to be able to express how the brand will show up in the world.

If you were tasked with designing production ready corporate swag, show it all off, but make it look real, instead of a production file with bleed and trim marks. If you created faux billboards, corporate swag, wild postings or tote bags that may or may not make it into the real world, that’s ok. Be proud of those blue sky applications that demonstrate what the brand could be one day—if they have the courage (and the budget) to execute on your ideas.

Tone of voice: A brand’s tone of voice is a direct extension of their brand values, which inform everything the brand does, including communication. If you’ve been working with a content strategist on the project, you’ve likely created a framework for how the brand speaks and sounds—what I like to call the verbal identity. This should consist of three to four voice principles, and can include a simple outline of “speak like this, not like this” examples.

Just remember, whether it’s a new brand you’ve created from scratch or a rebrand for a business looking to become the future version of themselves, the guidelines you create will effectively serve as the “Bible” for that company — at least from a visual and verbal standpoint. And like the Bible, brand guidelines are often open to interpretation.

I hope that helps!

Every client is important to us. Period.

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