Order out of chaos

A thing of the past if the guidelines are
kept up to date with the user in mind
Everything that can be moved online is pretty much there already - shopping, dating, live video, newspapers - it's all there and is easier to access than ever before. Despite this, one thing I've noticed is that most companies still insist on producing PDF versions of their brand guidelines. These important documents are representative of a living entity that evolves through usage and time and one of my frustrations is how often I see PDFs being used when the content should be a web page whether it be in internal emails or downloadable brochures - what a missed opportunity to get some audience insight!

It’s obvious that a static PDF document can’t be fit for this purpose. No big brand is the same as it was a year ago and therefore these guidelines need to be able to accommodate this continual growth, evolution and refinement. If you can manage to keep them up to date and ensure that every colleague is working from the latest version then that is a very impressive feat - especially bearing in mind the multiple intranets and shared drives many large companies have! By moving these guidelines online it makes the process of keeping them current much easier and enables continual review and updates as the brand evolves.

Another issue this solves is that of allowing the business to access the latest versions of the logo, fonts and other design assets. Rather than reading about them in a PDF and then having to hunt for/request them they can just download them there and then.

Frontify is a great free tool for online
brand guidelines and style guides
Being online opens up further possibilities to enhance understanding with simple interactive tools to help users of the brand. For instance, rather than a list of logos, you can create a ‘Which logo should I use?’ tool. It can ask 2-3 multiple choice questions on usage and then provide the correct artwork for download. A blog/newsletter to showcase recent project examples is also be a great way of improving understanding amongst brand users.

In many ways brand guidelines are indicative of showing that the digital age hasn't really happened. Any guidance on digital use, the brand UI and interactions is – for the large part – absent. This makes them redundant for how most people are using them and they are not addressing the real world application of people setting up microsites and social media pages. If you're not giving the guidance then it's your fault if lots of off brand accounts are popping up across the internet!

As the brand grows there is also more to it than simply a description of the colours, fonts and logos to use. Ideally an entire brand repository should be built where brand personality can sit alongside the identity guidelines. An excellent example of this is MailChimp's Voice and Tone which articulates how the company’s voice and tone should shift across a variety of touchpoints.

Writing style is also essential now that digital has made it much easier for everyone to publish themselves so a great way to maintain a consistent writing style for an organisation with many voices is by publishing a writing style guide. Providing writing for the web guidelines is extremely important when championing a digital first mentality.

I'd also argue that the added benefit of having online, searchable guidelines is the ability to utilise the analytics to see what your colleagues care about and how deep into your brand they delve. That way it can help you concentrate on what to develop in the future. That's more than any PDF will ever tell you!

To enable effective brand governance, a living, up to date set of guidelines is the way forward. This means moving them online not as an afterthought, as budget might allow, but as a priority.  Without this, as the brand gets used by an expanding range of colleagues and agencies, across different regions, the best you can hope for is small inconsistencies to crop up. More likely you’ll face a never ending wave of brand mutilation and mutation that will become impossible to control.
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