A future for brand guidelines.

So. Imagine that after some intense months, the brand identity project you’ve been working on is finally coming to an end. It’s been intense, but everyone is happy with the outcome. The identity looks great, it represents the company nicely, and it fits into the strategy that was agreed upon. A good relationship was established during the process. The only thing left is the final hand-over, and to make sure that the identity is correctly put to use. Now, if you did have creative freedom; what would be the best way to do that?

The importance of brand guidelines.

I think we all can agree that brand guidelines sit at the core of a well executed out brand identity project. It’s the “how to” for the brand. The brand guidelines (also known as a brand manual, a brand style guide or a brand book) show how to implement the visual identity correctly. When you make a brand guideline, you make the frame in which a brand will be represented and experienced. It is in place to make sure that the brand adapts to new situations in a way that is consistent and correct — and the point of the guideline is to make it easier to use the identity correctly.

Being static in an interactive world.

These days, most of the work we do is powered by the cloud. Almost everything we need to manage our work process is solved by using software. We have task lists in apps, we write in collaborative documents, and we seamlessly share files. Our creative and collaborative processes are all cloud-based, connected and interactive. The content and material we need continuously change. We adapt to new channels and touch points with different communicational frames. Because of this, most brands are forced to change and adapt. And they do. The brand guidelines on the other hand, usually do not.

When we started researching the idea of cloud-based brand guidelines, I interviewed a lot of design agencies about how they deliver brand guidelines today. Out of all the ones I talked to, I had trouble finding anyone who thought handing over guidelines as PDFs (which is by far the norm) was the ideal solution. Common thoughts were that it felt “flat” and “outdated,” that it required a lot of time and, that they ended up having to answer questions and send files through email anyway. When this became clear, we decided to interview the designer’s clients as well. As it turns out, they didn’t think that a PDF was the best solution either. Most brand buyers felt that it was impractical and a bit “cheap”. Almost everyone said that they had challenges getting all their employees and partners to adopt the brand guidelines.

A fitting frame.

Not only are static brand guidelines not practical for anyone, but a format that is not interactive is also not fitting for a brand identity itself. When you design a book, print, cover, signage or similar, you design something that will stay the same forever. That is the point and the beauty of something printed — which is great. Brand identities, on the other hand, are living things. They adapt to new situations and touch points. They change over time, often influenced by innovations, new people or a new kind of exposure. Not being able to handle these situations makes a brand detached and disassociated. Not being able to easily update or distribute how these changes should fit into the brand universe, limits the brand and decreases the value it creates.

Moving forward.

Static brand guidelines like PDFs or print are so poorly integrated into the modern workflow that everyone involved loses; the designers, the clients and the audience(s). Brand books are beautiful and nice to have, but they need to be complemented by a more practical, web-based solution. The guidelines and assets people need to use on a daily basis must be moved online, to a web-based system that is easily accessed and shared between everyone that needs access. By doing this, designers can decrease hours used on making them, and focus on crafting great visual identities. Clients can get the most out of the brands they represent, and the rest of us get better brand experiences as a result.

Notes

— I have had this post in my (massive) draft collection for quite some time now. Since the concept of a guideline being static in an interactive world was one of our first insights when initiating Brandpad, I saw it fitting that it got published today, on the launch of our Private Entry Program.