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Let's Ditch the Brand Guidelines

In 2003 Heidi Lightfoot co-founded Together Design, an award-winning design and branding company with an emphasis on collaboration and craft. Previously sitting on the D&AD Crafts for Design Jury, Heidi traces the move away from guidelines and towards brand worlds. Read on if you want to pick up vital brand guideline tips, learn about writing a style guide, and win an award while you're at it.

Ditch the Brand Guidelines and explore Brand Worlds | D&AD

At best they can feel like a straight jacket stifling creativity. At worst they’re unwieldy, hard to understand and impractical. Either way, style guides are a necessary part of brand management.

As we’ve all experienced, brands are increasingly multidisciplinary and nimble. No longer is our work restricted to a simple carton, poster or letterhead. Personality, impact and ‘brand’ has never been more important – regardless of the format of its execution.

Changing Definitions

This used to mean a cookie cutter approach where all visual assets were always the same. There was a belief that frequency and repetition built brand awareness and therefore brand equity and in turn, brand loyalty.

We now judge the success of a brand not by its ability to manage its brand mark but in its ability to be recognised without its mark. Success comes in capturing the essence and spirit of a brand; which requires a broader range of assets delivered by ‘style guides’ rather than ‘guidelines’. 

Ditch the Brand Guidelines and explore Brand Worlds | D&AD
Gordon’s Gin brand world by Together Design

The growth in, and demand for, personalisation has also required brands to broaden their offer. Developing a world around a brand enables engagement with audiences on a number of levels. It turns up the volume on the most relevant parts of the brand world depending on who they are communicating with, when and how. Hence the rise of ‘brand worlds’

A brand world or style guide is a media-neutral tool which can be used by anyone internal or external. It can inform all aspects of the brand and should be used as the core filter for all brand activity.

Heidi Lightfoot
Together Design

The rise in the need to engage internal teams has also required an alternative approach to the straight jacket of brand guidelines. This is particularly true for global brands with teams that are implementing locally. These are often highly skilled people who want the freedom to take a set of tools and create locally relevant, on-brand executions. Brand worlds provide a great balance between guidance/direction and providing the tools to create. The Whitney Museum’s new identity by Experimental Jetset is a great example of this.

Ditch the Brand Guidelines and explore Brand Worlds | D&AD
The Whitney Museum Identity won a D&AD Yellow Pencil in Graphic Design, 2014

Best Practice

A good style guide is a balancing act of rules versus inspiration. It’s a case of personality and mechanics; balancing the communication of the brand story with the technical delivery of hundreds of assets.

It’s really important to draw up a long-list of likely end uses for the document itself. A load of lovely positioning mood boards is useless for an implementation team who need easy access to usable design files.

Ditch the Brand Guidelines and explore Brand Worlds | D&AD
The Gruffalo licensing style guide by Together Design

We personally love exploring how the structure of the guide can communicate the brand as much as its content. We ask ‘What are the fun ways to show the colour palette?’ or ‘Can every bit of the page, right down to the page numbers feel unique for that brand?’ Our style guides for children’s licensing, such as The Gruffalo, frankly demand this fun approach.

We may have lost the fun of the printed version now everything is a pdf, however that shouldn’t stop us from exploring interactive elements and refining design details.

Ditch the Brand Guidelines and explore Brand Worlds | D&AD
The Gruffalo licensing style guide by Together Design

The best testament to a good style guide is to see how people take it and run with it. Seeing how others have understood what’s at the heart of the brand and used the assets to create new things, sometimes with an approach we had never thought of!

And of course seeing a brand grow, in terms of awareness and sales, that’s got to be a given. 

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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