The Evolving Role of Brand Guidelines

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Brand guidelines are often a mixed blessing. When done well they provide a balance of creative freedom and constructive limitation. They can adequately demonstrate the mantra that limitations equate to possibilities and facilitate informed decision-making. However, as we’ve often found, when done badly they become creatively constraining, uninspiring and make the management and execution of design impractical.

Over the years at Uscreates, we’ve worked with a lot of brand guidelines, both the good and the bad. On a fundamental level we understand their necessity. We understand their role in delivering effective brand management and in communicating brand narrative, both internally and externally. However as the landscape of communication changes, so does the role that brand guidelines play in brand dissemination. No longer are channels of communication between brand and audience linear and outward facing. Audiences expect brand experiences that provide transparency of information and facilitate conversation between product, service and user. They expect methods of communication that are interactive and responsive, from the apps they download, to the social platforms they communicate through.

Brand guidelines now, more than ever need to provide direction that can be efficiently adapted across platforms, services and experiences. Effective brand communication is no longer solely about how to apply a company mark or strap-line to a poster or billboard, but how do we push brands onto multi-channel outputs that stimulate conversation and promote brand narrative. Brand guidelines need to recognise that through social media sharing and communication, audiences now have the power to not just share a brand and its values, but change them and other people’s perception of them.

Therein lies the challenge: how do we create a singular set of guidelines that are engaging enough to achieve consistent brand communication, practical enough to avoid frustration and responsive enough to adapt to the changing needs of our external audiences? We challenge our clients to think about their brand guidelines from three fundamental angles: usability, consistency and creative autonomy.

Here are a few points to consider when designing or refreshing your brand guidelines.

1.Create with both practicality and personality

We should aim to devise brand guidelines where practicality and personality are synonymous. On a practical level we need to think about how to create a set of guidelines that are output-neutral and can be picked up and utilised by anyone internally or externally. As a minimum we should be providing those implementing the brand with parameters for efficient brand execution and the tools and assets to do so. Brand guidelines can also help those implementing them to embrace and advocate the spirit and personality of a brand. With this in mind we need to create guidelines in ways that tell a brand story, demonstrate a brand’s personality and engage both internal staff and external stakeholders. This is how we created the brand guidelines for South London and Maudsley’s Wheel of Wellbeing.

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2.Consider all potential users then design, test and iterate with them

When creating or refreshing guidelines, its important to consider all of the people that might need to use guidelines specifically, and an overall brand generally. Write up a list of primary and secondary users and think about all the possible eventualities of their needs. We should consider what they would need to get from the guidelines, and the most user-friendly ways to provide access to them. Testing with these users is also crucial. It is important to see how they understand the brand and how that aligns with the way you want to communicate it. What a designer understands from your guidelines might not make sense to a copyrighter, or a member of your target audience. Testing is also a great opportunity to see if guidelines have provided users with enough freedom to create new outcomes, experiences, services and products. We were pleasantly surprised with what stakeholders did with our Wheel of Well-being guidelines once we placed them under a Creative Commons license to provide some creative flexibility. We also love how user-friendly We Are MacMillan’s guidelines are. Check them out here. Working in this way also gives us the chance to recognise that there is always room for iteration and improvement.

be.macmillanMacmillian’s ‘Be.Macmillan’ brand HUB (

3.Utilise interactivity to maximise usability

The majority of brand guidelines are now viewed on screen because it is quicker to disseminate and update and is more environmentally friendly. However, this doesn’t mean we should stop exploring the format of our brand guidelines. Consider ways to utilise interactive features of a screen-based publication to maximise the practicality of our guidelines. For example, consider elements of interactive publishing to create internal navigation systems, link through to relevant content, demonstrate brand story through video or directly download assets to maximise usability. You could even experiment with embedding guidelines into an app or website if that maximises usability!

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In conclusion, we believe that if we want users to run with brand guidelines and create relevant and engaging outputs, then we need to provide them with guidelines that are easy-to-use and deliver both personality and practicality in one punch.

If you would like to find out more about refreshing or designing guidelines for your brand then get in touch with our Communication Design Director, Robbie Bates



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