Branding in the digital age

Jonny Gibson
Nov 2, 2017 · 5 min read

The world is moving online, digital is here to stay and we think everyone should begin redefining their brand guidelines, starting with digital.

Brand guidelines and style guides are a treat for any designer. Browsing the various logos, carefully considered colour palettes, arrays of creative applications, and all manner of printed materials. It’s total visual gratification and I love it.

But then, right at the end of the document, as if it’s just an afterthought, you find the ‘digital page’.

One page. That’s all there is.

If brands include any information on digital it is generally a short rehash of the print information, forced onto a single laptop screen or mobile app example. As a digital designer, it leaves me completely deflated.

Many brands developed these guidelines prior to digital, so it’s not surprising that their guidelines do not meet the flexibility required for representing their brand online. What is surprising is that modern companies are still failing to place digital at the core of their brand or visual language.

Numerous companies claim to embrace ‘digital’ as a core component of their business identity or wider commercial success, yet the central offering of the brand or major touchpoint is often heavily de-prioritised or completely over looked.

It’s counter intuitive.

From what I can see, there are a few reasons that might explain the lack of digital consideration in modern branding projects:

1. Print has been the established medium of design for decades

Print-led brand guidelines are perceived as unassailable. They cost a lot of time and money to produce and are therefore not to be messed with. They are the brand bible to which we must all adhere.

This kind of culture puts a lot of pressure on digital agencies to find creative ways of applying a rule set not fit for the medium. Forcing the application is often impossible, technically un-advisable or just plain ugly. The result is either a poor brand experience built on un-intuitive design decisions, or a conflicting aesthetic which is at odds with the traditional, above the line marketing style.

Neither of which are good.

2. Branding agencies are not specialised in digital

Companies are still going to traditional, print-focussed branding agencies to define their visual identity, agencies who have failed to acknowledge digital design as a specialism that’s worth investing in.

Digital as a medium is interactive and embraces participation, and how a brand feels is as important as how it looks. However, very few branding agencies have designers who specialise in designing for digital, let alone any experience creating digital products. Therefore, the identity systems they create fail to take into account the intricacies of different digital platforms and how that may impact the final presentation of the brand.

3. Digital brand guidelines are hard to develop

The reality is that designing for digital is complicated and time consuming. Each device has its own set of technical limitations, screen size, resolution, input method, to name a few. They all add restraints which can appear to restrict creativity. But in an age where culture is so heavily built around interaction and engagement on digital platforms, brands can no longer afford to de-prioritise digital.

Consider:

  • How will your logo work as an avatar on social channels?
  • Do your colours adhere to accessibility compliance like WCAG?
  • How will weak browsers cope with large format imagery?

Digital designers like us can help to refocus your brand for digital use and document it for the future, but it’s an inefficient use of your budget if you’ve already commissioned, and paid for what is now a defunct brand guideline. This process seems to be backwards.

By neglecting to consider digital from the outset many brands are left with an outdated online presence. I’ve put together a downloadable guide with 10 considerations for branding that outline some often overlooked digital aspects of a brand, and listed them out below. Understanding and building on these will enable you to create a brand that thrives in the digital age.


01 — Motion

Movement, choreography, animation, physics

Animation and motion are major players in digital interaction and they go a long way towards representing the personality of your brand. You should think about what types of movement represent your brand values.

02 — Imagery

Ratios, crops, focal point

Having a consistent point, or area of focus allows your images to scale and respond consistently across all platforms. Consider safe areas inside your images to account for different device-aspect-ratios.

03 — Iconography

Scalability, clarity, consistency, suite

Icon sets should be designed to be scalable and clear whether they’re set at 12px or 120px. Remember that they’re functional and exist for a purpose, so avoid over styling them to the point of abstraction.

04 — Typography

Scalability, readability, character set

Typography renders differently across different screens. Some fonts are designed specifically for screen while some were designed for print, decades before screens even existed! Make sure your brand font is legible and readable across all weights and sizes.

05 — Accessibility

Colours, contrast, sound

Check your colour palette against current web standards, such as WCAG compliance. It’s important to make sure that the overall level of contrast aids legibility across all platforms, for all users, rather than acting as a barrier.

06 — Languages

Word length, bidirectionality

Different languages have varying word lengths, or totally different character sets. Do your brand fonts allow for this? Make sure your layout decisions allow for different reading directions, such as vertical or right to left.

07 — Layout

Screen size, responsive, flexible layout, grids

Consider the ratios of the devices your customers will use. Content should be flexible and fluid, adapting to the size of any given screen. Responsive grids allow content to feel natural, regardless of screen ratio.

08 — Technical

Performance, platforms

Large, full-bleed imagery is great to look at, but tricky for weak internet connections to load. Understanding the technical limitations of digital platforms should inform your brand decisions.

09 — Medium

Web, mobile, TV, print

Every device type has its nuances. Whether you’re working on a conventional laptop, retina smart phone, 50” TV, or connected devices like watches & VR headsets. Consider how the brand adapts to feel natural across them all.

10 — Social and Sharing

Avatars, social content

Considered how your brand will be represented across third party platforms, such as how your logo works as an avatar. You should also consider how your content look in a square Instagram image or a Facebook post.


If you have any questions about developing brand guidelines from a digital perspective, or adapting your brand to feel more at home on digital devices, then reach out to us via the Foolproof website.

Foolproof UX

Foolproof is an experience design agency which has given a voice to thousands of customers and brought about organisational change for global businesses.

Jonny Gibson

Written by

Thoughts on design, psychology and typography. Often at the same time.

Foolproof UX

Foolproof is an experience design agency which has given a voice to thousands of customers and brought about organisational change for global businesses.

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