Saatchi & Saatchi Design

Brand identity, positioning and design communications.

Good brand guidelines are a springboard, not a straightjacket.

Today’s smartest companies are led by their brand values and beliefs. A strong brand identity leads and reflects the company’s values and reinforces these qualities through brand guidelines. But guidelines do more than mark out rules and regulations, they tell a brand’s story, focusing everyone together in the same direction.

Brands are becoming more open and expressive. This means guidelines also are becoming more emotional, less rigid and more flexible, enabling brands to adapt their tone and to address multiple audiences. Good guidelines strike a balance between emotional engagement and continuity and avoid drawing the brand too far from its focus.

Old brands, new tricks

In the past guidelines tended to stamp their brand onto the marketplace, believing that presenting a consistent image would eventually lead to becoming a trusted partner of choice. This worked at the time, because consistency became familiarity, familiarity became trust and from trust came acceptance and allegiance. Today consumers and businesses are more brand savvy and need to see the brand living, breathing, and becoming a part of their lives. Engaging staff and customers becomes an invitation to join in and interact, rather than directives on what to and what not to do. A good example of this new flexibility is Coca Cola. In the ‘70s and ‘80s Coca Cola stamped its red and white branding all over the globe; now, as official sponsor of The Championship Football League, Coca Cola has allowed changes to its brand colours to match that of home teams across the country. Perhaps none stranger than those of Norwich City FC!

Coca Cola Colours

Flexible brands are enduring brands

Brand content and message can also become more important than overall look and feel. For example, Vodafone’s ‘Make the most of now’ message is held in a clear red panel, but behind this can go all manner of illustration, photography or moving images. The brand message is consistent but the visual brand is alive, responsive and adaptive to the audience being addressed. Consequently, the visual elements of the brand work that extra bit harder in all forms of media; extending the brand’s longevity and saving on expensive brand overhauls. Flexibility is the key to successful brand guidelines, and companies need to have the confidence to allow the brand to grow and build relationships with different audiences across multiple platforms.

Vodafone Advertisements

However, one bad apple, especially high up the tree, is all that is required to spoil the brand. This is why it is vital that everyone in your company understands, buys into, and is able to articulate the brand in a consistent way. This is no small task, but it will give you a huge advantage to enjoy over more fragmented competitors. Remember: flexibility, the balance between emotional engagement and consistency, will keep your brand vibrant now and into the future.

See how Saatchi & Saatchi Design have worked with our clients to design effective brand guidelines.


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20 top tips for designing effective brand guidelines

  1. First understand:
    • Who will be using the guidelines
    • What they will gain from using them
    • Where & how it will be accessed
    • Why the guidelines are being produced
  2. If it’s being targeted at an in-house design team, then involve them from the beginning.
  3. Pick up one big idea which permeates the brand. Explain how following the brand guidelines will help communicate this idea to your brand’s key audiences.
  4. Live the brand; design the guidelines in the look and feel of the new brand design.
  5. Before working on details, first create a pagination and have it signed off.
  6. Create a clear section numbering system make clear reference to it in the body copy.
  7. Create section dividers containing a table of contents for each section.
  8. Have a clear introduction upfront to explain why the guidelines have been produced and how adhering to them will strengthen your brand.
  9. Guide, don’t tell. Engage the user. Tone of voice is key, so keep it short and simple to understand. Depending on your brand, some light-hearted copy in key places can keep it fun and creative.
  10. Have a clear typographic hierarchy. A three tier typographic platform works best, i.e. 1. Headings, 2. Introduction copy,  3. Body copy.
  11. Brand Guidelines by Saatchi & Saatchi Design

  12. Make rules flexible enough for designers to be creative but rigid enough to keep the brand easily recognisable. Occasionally situations will call for rules to be bent, but never broken. Continuity is key, especially if you need the brand to breath and extend across multiple media.
  13. Digital distribution is now common, so you needn’t be restricted to a limited pagination. For clarity, try to express only one or two key messages per page.
  14. Provide a Toolkit to help the designers get started. This should be a single page overview of your brand look and feel, and including your identity, colours, typographic treatment, imagery and other graphic devices.
  15. Show clear examples of how the brand should look across a full range of different media.
  16. If your brand has been mishandled in the past, consider including a Don’t Do section, showcasing common errors.
  17. When distributing digitally, create an interactive pdf. Hyperlinking your table of contents, email and web addresses will greatly improve usability. Create these in the Master InDesign File and not within Acrobat, to save having to repeat the process with each revision.
  18. Basic contents for brand guidelines should include:
    • Contents
    • Introduction
    • Company Values or Spirit
    • The Big Idea
    • Toolkit
    • Identity
    • Identity Clear Space
    • Copywriting and Tone of Voice
    • Colours
    • Typography
    • Photography
    • Graphic Devices
    • Layout and Grids
    • Applications
    • Overview with examples
    • Further Information
    • Contacts
    • Glossary
  19. More detailed brand guidelines may include:
    • Signage
    • Advertising
    • Stationery
    • Digital and Web
    • Merchandise
    • Co Branding
    • Cultural or Behavioural directions for staff training.
  20. Have your Management Team sign off all design at key stages before going public.
  21. Brand guidelines will not be enforced automatically. Be sure to schedule a review after the launch of your guidelines to ensure that they are being followed and to see where any problem areas may be occurring.

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Why we blog

This blog is here to help us stop and reflect on our work, share insights we find on the way, and extend thanks to our clients who got us here in the first place. Enjoy.