Graphic Standards Manuals are a critically important management tool for brand owners to ensure their brand identity assets are correctly and consistently reproduced over all media channels.
Developing graphic standards documents for managing brand identity is a big undertaking in both time and money. Naturally, brand owners and managers responsible for ensuring their brand assets are faithfully reproduced will insist that their creative services partners (ad agencies, design firms, PR firms and web development firms) take this document seriously.
Recently, a client was expressing frustration over an issue where their in-house designers were stretching the brand standards and guidelines for the sake of style and creative expression of a new marketing campaign. I’m confident this is a common occurrence for marketing communication executives and managers charged with maintaining the integrity of their brand identity over time. As a corporate and brand identity designers for many years, we have some sympathy for both sides of the argument.
Coloring outside the lines.
The discipline of creating visual identities has changed significantly over the past decade. The trend in corporate identity and brand design continues to move to more flexible, adaptable and experiential solutions. No longer can “identity” be a static marker stuck in the lower right-hand corner of an ad.
Flexible and stylistically changing visual design is now baked into contemporary corporate and brand identity programs. An early adopter of this trend was MTV. The iconic letterform of the MTV logo has a constantly changing visual motif allowing each generation to connect with the brand’s unique philosophy and highly emotional promise.
Another example of this trend for experiential identity design is Virgin. Throughout its vast business, the brand’s expression and visual language shifts and changes to suit its expressive needs.
Creative people (naturally) resist staying within the lines of strict visual guidelines.
Graphic designers–although well-meaning, seem to be the worst offenders. This new generation of creative professionals has a different worldview, as they have grown up in a world where the rules seem to change every minute.
Staying within the lines.
Discipline is the key to freedom. When organizations are disciplined (maintain good habits), they can more easily execute on new and powerful ideas. Establishing the good habit of managing the expression of the brand’s identity in the marketplace is still a prerequisite for building lasting brand value.
Staying within the lines of the established visual design standards will continue to enhance the consistent expression of the brand’s primary asset–it’s identity. Brand experience is about creating a discipline of delighting customers. When customers become confused by a brand’s blurry visual identity, they’re no longer delighted.
Discipline is not an impediment to creativity. In fact, it enhances creativity through clarity. In our over-crowded, me-too marketplace, it’s essential brands express their value clearly and consistently. Graphic Standards provide the necessary guidance for creative partners to use the brand’s visual assets effectively across all customer touch points.