How a detailed brand guideline is key for any business or service.
Being a designer and creator of many brands over the years, I love a well-considered and beautifully crafted logo as much as anyone. I enjoy the process of creating a logo that visually depicts the inherent qualities of the brand it represents, in a simple and thoughtful manner. Don’t get me wrong a quality logo is important, however, it should be viewed as an element of the brand, as a logo is never seen in isolation - unless you live in some five-dimensional, post matrix world, where logos hover in suspended animation and light-sabres can be purchased at the local 7 Eleven.
A well constructed brand guideline can be seen as the Designers Toolkit, containing all the individual elements of the brand, in a handy carry case. Much like a chef has a set of ingredients to create a balanced and memorable dish, a brand should have a set of quality ingredients that come together to form the brand. These are generally - but not limited to - logo/brand mark, colour, typography, imagery, tone of voice and examples of how all the elements can be put together to create consistent branded materials, that people can immediately recognise as stemming from the same brand. So let’s unpack some of these in more detail.
Consistent use of colour is important for any brand. This relates to both brands that rely on colour recognition heavily - think Qantas-red, CommBank-yellow, Woolworths-green and brands that consistently use every colour under the sun, but remain instantly recognisable through logo or tone of voice - like Nike. A brand guide should always contain the primary and secondary colour values of a brand for print and on screen viewing, along with an indication of the ratio of each colour to be used and any rules around combinations of colours.
For example, Orange may be a primary brand colour, however large areas of orange should not be used as it goes against the overall brand look and feel or tone of voice. Generally speaking, the contemporary brand landscape, sees a bolder and more adventurous use of colour being used - think Westpac using pink and purple. Having said that, colour should be carefully considered and there is always room for a simple and timeless black and white brand depending on the target audience and industry.
“It’s just a font isn’t it” - said no designer or brand manager, ever. Typography can make or break a brand. Choosing and using defined typefaces throughout branded materials is very important in producing consistent visual communication. A brand guideline will define the typefaces to be used, at what weights (bold, light etc) and provide rules around sizes and cases (uppercase, lowercase) of type. While this subject needs its own article really, I like to choose typefaces that personify aspects of the brand and complement the logotype. For example, choosing a strong and geometric typeface for an Architecture firm which relates to the inherent geometric aspects of building design. Or choosing a more organic and on-trend “human” typeface for a beauty or fashion brand.
There are many aspects to consider when choosing typefaces such as: serif or sans-serif, heavy or light, geometric or humanist, classic or on-trend, accessibility and legibility. Ultimately, it comes down to the designers intuition, style and skill in choosing typefaces that work together nicely and embody the quality of the brand.
A picture tells a thousand words - the key being - what do those words say about the brand? Photography style is an element to consider when creating a brand and can be quite tricky to get right as subtle nuances within images can impact how people perceive the brand as a whole. This is another huge area of discussion dependent on the industry the brand sits within, however, I tend to consider these attributes when specifying photography style: lighting (dark and moody or light and bright), natural or edited, location and how are people shown (individuals or groups, looking directly at camera or not, casual or more formal clothing).
As a general rule, photography styles are becoming much more real in terms of lighting and how people are shown. Gone are the days of overly staged, impossibly perfect, cliched stock photography of one type of demographic - praise be! Instead, brands large and small are looking to reflect the diversity that exists within Australia and the world by using imagery that real people can relate to and engage with, across all industries - yes, even the fashion industry!
Brand examples - putting it all together
Now we have a whole bunch of nice brand elements, but how does it all fit together? like having an assortment of the best individual ingredients, it still requires a recipe and cooking to produce a delicious dish. So does a brand guideline. This is where the real art and skill of the brand designer comes to life. How to balance all the elements consistently, across a range of materials from print, digital and signage in our daily challenge. I have always considered brand examples as the key section of any brand guide and where the crucial art direction decisions have to be made.
I always aim to show these examples on any brand:
- Logo placement and alignment - where does the logo sit on a page/screen
- Icon and brand mark usage - how large and when is the brand mark used
- Image and text combinations - how are images, text and logo placed on the same page or screen
- Typography styles in practice - how text styles can be combined on one page or screen
- Imagery - how the photographic style is used in combination with text and tone of voice
There we have it. Having a nice logo that embodies the brand is important, however, documenting how and executing all the materials that a brand needs using a consistent visual language is arguably more important for the overall effectiveness of the brand.