Friday, March 20, 2015
by Lynda Roberts

Corporate Identity Guidelines - Friend or foe?

At Denfield we are fortunate enough to work with a variety of big brands, ranging from car manufacturers to sportswear. So it may be no surprise that we have enough corporate/brand guidelines to open a library, and as the studio manager it's part of my role to regularly check our library of guidelines and make sure everything is up-to-date and we’re on brand.

Designers tend to spilt into two camps with regards to corporate guidelines. The first camp are those who believe corporate guidelines are a good thing and that they support the brand by crafting a consistent brand image, message and style. The second camp blames corporate guidelines for stifling the creative process and creating too many boundaries and rules for a creative to adhere to. I am quite firmly in the first camp.

Well produced corporate guidelines which have been executed with care can be a wonderful tool to work with. They will provide a designer with some of the basic elements of the job to get it looking on brand, therefore freeing up time to really get into the creative aspect of the job. Yes there might be a complicated grid system and a bit of maths to work out the size of the logo, but once you get it spot on, it will look fantastic. The key is to work creatively within these guidelines, and still manage to create a stunning creative concept that is on brand.

You’ve all seen branding done badly. Small independent garages, with knock off manufacturer logos up on the wall, you know something doesn’t look quite right. Well, that’s because they’re not following the brand. Off brand work simply doesn’t give off quite the same impression and values as corporate work.

Global companies spend a fortune on creating their brand image and guidelines. Many inspire smaller businesses to use the classic “we want to be like…” brief. However these companies have spent a long time building up their brand by following their own set of corporate identity rules.

In my opinion, the best way to develop a brand is to create your own rules rather than trying to imitate someone else. Decide on the tone of voice, the style of images, the size of the logo and the company typeface. Once a company has built up a strong core brand image, that’s when the fun part starts, because you can work creatively with the strong brand image and use it as a foundation for your more crazy ideas! And, once you’ve got your strong brand it’s not set in stone forever, brands change and develop over time, but in doing so you’ll be creating a history of the business rather than an imitation of what someone else might be doing.

As much as I firmly approve of corporate guidelines I do see many valid points in the arguments against them. When they are badly produced without foresight as to how they will actually be implemented they can be restrictive and sometimes the rules just don’t work because a certain format or size implication hasn’t been considered.

I’ve also had the task of producing corporate guidelines in the past and I know from experience how difficult it can be to try and cater for all eventualities when compiling the guidelines!

To summarise, I believe that corporate guidelines need to be carefully and thoughtfully put together and how they will be implemented across all platforms, channels and devices. They help develop and maintain a strong brand, especially when there is more than one studio responsible for producing materials. The challenge for us as designers is to work within these guidelines and still produce great work!