A designer’s guide to being on brand

11.11.19 | by Andrea Tovar and Chloe Wilkinson

As designers we work across different brands every day, but as consumers we all constantly make choices about which brands we like to wear, eat or buy. 

The Delivery Hero website reminds us that “globally we have nearly 30 brands”; a designer in the central brand team is probably working on at least 3 of those brands simultaneously. Meanwhile, designers in the local teams are creating assets for their brands in the exact same way to produce identical-looking creatives. How do we manage to match our designs despite not being in the same office? Our secret might not surprise you…brand guidelines!

What are they?

To begin with, what are brand guidelines? In short, they work as a manual to describe how the company looks visually both internally and externally; a roadmap to consistency and authenticity helping us maintain our voice and visual language – especially when many heads are tackling the same brand. They contain clear standards and directions which allow our brand to be scaled and transcend across all platforms and formats, from a tiny 300×50 pixel-animated banner to a big static out of home. In short, they’re a central collection of learnings to improve general efficiency.

Yemeksepeti’s iconic image was translated into a cohesive visual system

They shouldn’t be viewed as strict rules, but instead used to guide us on the brand’s agreed tone of voice and visual language. As no brand is the same, each set of brand guidelines is unique and contains everything that we want to communicate as a brand either verbally or visually – tone of voice, logos, typefaces, colour, compositions and more.

PedidosYa is the best example of how a brand can be scaled and transcend across all platforms and formats

How do we define them?

Throughout our careers, defining a brand’s DNA has been core to our work. Behind each set of brand guidelines are many hours of workshops investigating what tone of voice each brand identifies with, as well countless hours designing and confirming what works and what doesn’t. Another step in this process is coming up with a logo or tagline; it’s super easy to say what doesn’t work, but much trickier to discover what does!

Brand guidelines for our Hungarian brand, NetPincér

The process

There’s more behind brand guidelines than one might think, so we’re going to give you a quick insight into what happens even before the design process.

Researchers help us understand our customers’ needs, after which the team gets together to identify the brand’s personality and ToV. All of these are supported by product managers, leaders and content creators who ensure that we are aligned and share a collective vision.

That’s where we designers come in to translate all of this information into a visual system. We start by establishing and structuring what we need by breaking apart each element of the visual language, before we proceed with designing those elements.

This last step is a matter of try, fail, learn and repeat. We fail when we do not succeed in communicating the brand visually, but when we fail, we know what we shouldn’t do and that translates into a design rule or a DON’T. We build on these learnings until we manage to craft the brand; that’s when we experience the ‘ta-da’ moment!

‘We love pink’ – foodpanda’s brand guidelines

What next?

OK, enough about creating. What comes after the brand guidelines? We collected a few key points to consider when working with them:

1. Always consider each brand as a person

You can’t imagine how much this helps when designing anything. Each brand is different and unique and this outlook enables you to portray it in the best light possible .

2. Don’t trust your eyes, read the hex code

Please do not attempt to go by sight. Colours might look similar to you, but they are most likely not the same. You will find the hex codes in the colour section of your brand guidelines – we assure you, they will be there!

3. Beware of the safety area

Our logo is the single most recognizable element of our brand. We aim for it to breathe and be as visible as possible. If you follow the usage guidelines, including the safety area recommendations, you are probably giving your logo justice.

4. Don’t miss the photography section

As with everything in this world, photography is a form of communication too. Lightning, colours and composition can express many different things and express the brand differently. We spend many hours finding the right picture, so please don’t skip this part – keep consistency!

But, why?

What is there not to love about brand guidelines? You’re probably thinking about the R word – RULES. Yes, brand guidelines contain rules. But as explained, they should never have too many; a well crafted set of guidelines inspire you to explore visually within the established system. 

Remember to think of them as road maps. Personally, we would never go out for an appointment without knowing which train to take or where to go; it would be too time consuming to wander outside into rainy Berlin without directions. This same logic can be applied to brand guidelines. 

Unfortunately, most people don’t refer to brand guidelines. According to Patrick Woodhead, Medium writer and the founder online brand identity tool Pilcro, 80% of cases they profiled show that “the brand guidelines doc, once finished by the design team, is left undiscoverable, untouched and unloved.”

In this case, what can really go wrong? To start we challenge you to look at this image. Does it look odd to you? 

Like us, customers can tell this is inconsistency. It becomes even more evident if you continuously fall into brand inconsistency – the worst part is that your customers notice the constant changes, making it harder for them to trust your brand. 

So, don’t forget…

Bringing the brand guidelines to life is quite a challenge. However, the biggest challenge of all is to ensure they are used and that our brands remain authentic and unique. As our verbal and visual collective becomes the standard for every person who touches our brand, we can ensure that every customer interaction leaves a happy client finding a trustworthy and recognizable brand. 

Thanks for reading!

11.11.19 | by Andrea Tovar and Chloe Wilkinson