Rhubarb Fool is currently working on producing brand guidelines for one of the UK’s leading trade associations.
It’s an interesting project and we thought we’d jot down some tips we’ve picked up along the way. The most interesting being that the best brand guidelines are flexible. bend but don’t break!
Form the offset, it has been imperative to understand who will be using these guidelines and importantly why do they need them. Is it just colleagues, or advertising agencies as well?
Do ask whether there is there a specific reason why they need to be produced?
You may learn something. Sometimes employees (let’s call them users) feel a little imprisoned by the brand, especially if it is an iconic one. They may benefit from being pointed towards alternative, yet still consistent, brand usages.
Maybe it is the opposite and the value of the brand is being diluted by a conflicting variety of usages. In that case we need to impose some consistency. Either way it’s best to find out from the get go.
As soon as you have learnt about the audience, get to the nub of the brand.
Distill the essence of the brand into three or four words maybe. Use these words as the core pillars of the guidelines, making sure to explain how using the brand guidelines will help communicate these pillars to the key customers.
As mentioned, brand guidelines aren’t a pair of handcuffs. Use engaging language to demonstrate that the guidelines are there simply to guide not to rule. Good guidelines almost tell a story, so encourage the user to come along for the ride. Let’s discover the brand all over again!
Your guidelines need to be flexible. Brands need to tell their stories to a range of audiences and one size does not fit all. Adapt your tone accordingly and keep emotional responses front of mind.
Thus, a brand needs to live and breathe.
It is no longer a monolithic icon towering over our lives as it once was. We meet with a brand in a thousands scenarios now, and often the consumer will manipulate the brand to their own means. And there ain’t nothing we can do about it so chill. No-one’s getting hurt.
There is a difference between rigidity and consistency. Go for the latter. Make rules flexible enough for designers to be creative but robust enough to keep the brand consistent and recognisable.
Consistency is key as brand spill over and into different media but feel free to show examples of how the brand should look across a full range of different platforms and media.
Your brand will evolve with different audiences. That’s fine, don’t sweat it. Your brand is out there living, having fun and only occasionally bringing home its dirty washing.