Talking of Design
Camel any one?
Have you ever heard the phrase: “The camel is the horse designed by committee”?
Well. I don’t really like that phrase. What if the brief is for ‘an animal that can carry heavy goods across a hot desert without water’ :P
But seriously. It is and accurate phrase. Similar to: “too many cooks spoil the broth”.
I’m lucky in that I have a diverse range of clients — small, medium and large. With medium / large clients you often have to deal with more than one point of contact, and you often have to get work seen and signed off by more than one person.
To be honest, I tend to take on projects where there is only one or two people on the client side in charge of making decisions / signing-off etc., but I realise that this can’t always be the case, which is understandable. I’m not a massive fan of ‘committees’ (I am a massive fan of Newcastle United FC, but lets leave that for another post shall we).
I can’t recommend enough the need for brand guidelines to be supplied on projects where there are a number of individuals involved in decision making on the client side. These individuals could be directors, managers, or any points of contact — when there are many people involved in feedback and signing off.
So why are brand guidelines so important?
When you have a lot of people looking at your work, and ultimately involved in signing off each stage, you could possibly have a lot of conflicting ideas, feedback and thoughts about what you have done.
Individuals have different likes and dislikes, and different thoughts on how things should be.
The beauty of brand guidelines are that they act as a reference point to any visual work. If the core design needs of of the brand are met, then it can be ‘ticked off the list’ and the development process can move to the next stage.
It also removes any “personal like / dislike” factors that can confuse the focus and direction of the design process.
It also means that, as a designer, you have a starting point for your design, and that you can feel confident that — whilst it may require some changes derived from client feedback — at least you will get the main areas going in the right direction, bar tweakages.
So, all brand guidelines are great?
Well. No. Only good brand guidelines are great. Does that make sense? Heh.
Yes, all brand guidelines do cover those points above, but you can still have bad brand guidelines.
Bad guidelines are often a product of ‘bad design’ — where colours, fonts and the logo perhaps aren’t properly considered. Perhaps the logo itself is poorly designed and isn’t flexible enough for the needs of various applications, at different sizes and contexts.
This is where brand guidelines really become “guidelines”. In other words, I would often recommend referencing them loosely so that good design wins out :P
You would need to point this out to the client straight away, and make it clear that you would like some ‘creative licence’ on some areas — for the good of the project. If you can convince them, and they see value in your honesty for the ‘greater good’ — cracking!
My brand guidelines
I don’t have a brand guidelines document. But then again, there is only one person involved in my business. Me.
But I do have brand guidelines. In fact, I had brand guidelines when I didn’t even know that I did, in that I was, and am, displaying my business visually in a way that has ‘rules’ and a feel that is consistent throughout my ‘visual existance’ on the web and in print (and also, I guess, in words).
So. These are my guidelines:
- Use of hand rendered, quirky, scruffy elements where ever possible — especially on areas I wish to draw attention to
- Use of splodges, mess, scribbles etc. — to reference traditional design practices
- The use of the quirky star where appropriate (logo and list items) — but not over-used
- Use of a “primary red” colour on important areas
- Use of a “rich slate blue” colour on my blog area
- Different colour references to distinguish between different service areas
- Use of my illustration and animation within the layout design where appropriate
- Serif font use on body text
- Sans-serif font use on headings
- Sound and considered layout and composition treatment of elements — to show that a professionally trained designer lurks behind the apparent mess and chaos :P
- An informal, humorous and honest tone to my written copy, for a refreshing feel with personality. As in: “This is me — warts an’all”
I know what you may be thinking: that I have merely just described how my site looks. But — in a way — that is all brand guidelines are.
I could take the above and come up with a totally different design in a totally different context and media, and yet still tick off each item one by one to ensure my core brand values (yuck, did I just write that?) are still in place.
Yadda yadda yadda — summerise godamit!
You’re right. I’ve rambled too much. So. To summarise:
- Brand guidelines are particularly important for medium/large companies/organisations to stop any ‘going round in circles’ at committee level
- Brand guidelines are basically rules for how a company is displayed and perceived
- Brand guidelines shouldn’t be too restricting, but on the other hand, not too vague