What makes a good brand platform?
Over the last year, there’s probably no one that has seen or analyzed the usage of more brand platforms (or guidelines or manuals or books) than we have. Not only have we researched the topic for endless hours, but we’ve also contributed to building a lot of them and analyzed every single platform designed and delivered in Brandpad. So what have we learned about creating successful brand platforms?
First things first, for a brand platform to be valuable at all it first has to be used. It sounds redundant, but the truth is that making something as easy to start using as possible is half the job when it comes to guides. For every small point of friction in using the identity you can remove, the chances that people will use it successfully increases.
When we looked at brand usage for platforms in Brandpad, this friction factor was so definite that we decided to revamp the system from being closed to being open. Now, brand users that don’t design (like clients and partners) don’t need “yet another login” to access the brand and assets (though, as a designer you can choose to set a password or not). As a result, the average platform is now used every day instead of every now and then. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the format of the brand guideline is. The important thing is that it’s within arms reach when someone needs it. If it’s not, they’ll wing it instead.
Visual identities are often anchored in intangible ideas that non-designers don’t grasp fully. That’s fine; most great identities have deep and thoughtful concepts behind them. However, the more complex the ruling and guides for the identity is, the less chance it is that people other than the original designer will put them to use correctly. Imagine a key account manager updating a keynote presentation. In terms of design, all they care about (if you’re lucky) is how they can avoid fucking up. The guideline should make it easy for them to achieve that goal by understanding that he doesn’t have the same eye for visuals as the designer.
Generally speaking, we see that the more straight-forward and direct the rules are, the easier it is for others to adopt them. As a rule of thumb; try to avoid custom ruling if possible (i.e., ruling that applies only to particular cases.) Based on the data we have from the guidelines in Brandpad, there seems to be a correlation between simplicity and retention. And we assume that the more the guideline is used, the better the outcome.
“A single source of truth” is one of those terms that have been thrown around a lot lately. Deservingly, maybe. Being the only thing you need to reference when working on something makes it easier to get people to find the time. It seems that the more touch points involved, the higher the chances are for something to go wrong. We think that makes sense — if you had to use four different systems to send an email, you’d probably call instead.
The best example here is the paradox of storing assets one place, then having to reference another document (typically a guideline PDF) on how to use those assets. Creating multi-step processes like this often causes people to skip the last step in that process. Why? Because they have work to get done. For a visual identity, this seems to be one of the biggest reasons for misusage; people simply have to put in too much effort to do it right.
At the end of the day, none of these factors matter unless the guideline and identity are kept up to date. Having a brand platform that contains the wrong information (typically due to being an older version) or old assets defeats the purpose of having it in the first place. It will have a significant, negative impact on the brand users willingness to use it, and it doesn’t take more than one or two times before people stop trusting it as the place to go. Making sure the identity is kept up to date and consistent through new touch points, content, material, etc. is also key to creating a successful and relevant identity, so laying the groundwork for easily keeping the guideline up until to date is often valuable in the long run.
All in all.
It’s important to remember that the most frequent user of a brand guideline or platform is a non-designer. A good brand platform bridges your intentions (as a designer) together with the ease-of-use a non-designer needs, and makes it almost impossible to use the identity in the wrong way. It’s easy to find, clear and trustworthy. If you believe that people using a visual identity as it was intended is an essential part of creating a successful brand, you should also believe that creating robust brand platforms is vital.
Brandpad is a brand platform solution made for designers and studios that are passionate about brand identities. More at www.brandpad.io.