June 04, 2014
As associate visual director at Ologie, Neil Wengerd has had a hand in creating brand guidelines for more than 30 brands, and he’s learned a thing or two along the way. Here, he shares some insights about the daunting task of developing a tool to keep a brand on track for years to come.
Why do brand guidelines matter?
A strong brand often communicates through a big idea. Guidelines make those big ideas real and tangible, so that the brand can be executed across all types of platforms and media. Guidelines create a starting point: they give communicators a framework to build from and language to follow. And if they’re done right, you can learn the basics once and then refer back to them over and over again. There’s a difference between identity standards and brand guidelines. Standards for logos and colors tend to be hard and fast rules. Brand guidelines contain those standards, but they also explore the more flexible aspects of a brand. That’s how you’re able to keep it fresh over time.
Brand guidelines: the law or a source of inspiration?
The era of the brand police is over. You can’t govern a brand. You have to move people to bring the brand to life in authentic and consistent ways. Brand guidelines should make everyone’s job easier—creating, executing, concepting, all of it. And brands have many, many authors, as they should. Good guidelines help all of these authors to “speak” the same language, even as they contribute to the brand with their own style.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when developing guidelines?
Failing to think about who will actually use them every day. You’ve got to build something that works for those people, and they can represent a wide spectrum of skills and resources. At Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia, there’s a one-man marketing team with very limited resources. We created a great system of tools that take into consideration his software, budget, and time constraints. It was an entirely different challenge to create guidelines for Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which has a sizable marketing and design team that’s incredibly savvy. We built a big, flexible system, with elements that rotate based on trends. It allows communications to stay fresh—a must-have for a design school—while still aligning with the core brand.
What’s your process for approaching a guidelines project?
We use guidelines to test the strength of a brand. As we’re developing them, we experiment with various elements to create guidance points and examples. We can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, and refine the brand as needed.
What’s the most important element every set of brand guidelines should have?
Examples. Lots of them.
What’s the best medium for the finished product?
Guidelines can be digital, print, video, environmental—anything. Right now, there are so many great sites out there (like these for Notre Dame and the University of California). But at the end of a guidelines project, we’ve been known to create a hardbound book as a gift to our clients, because sometimes it’s nice to be able to hold a brand right in your hands.
Guidelines you wish you had designed?
RAC, a British automotive services company
This book documents a complex system, yet it looks so elegant that you want to pick it up and flip through its pages. It’s probably over the top, but when you’re showing how to brand something like an airship, it probably should be.
First Direct Bank
The entire guidelines book is a conversation between a narrator and the reader. It answers the common questions about a brand, but with smart reasoning and in a fun way.
Favorite guidelines that you’ve created?
Sewanee: The University of the South