When a brand is in the development phase, many will imbue a lot of their own personalities into the brands (i.e likes, dislikes, aesthetic appeal and so forth) but we have to ultimately remember that this is not personal, it’s business. Now there will be those that argue ‘It’s my business therefore it is personal’, and honestly, I understand. For example, I am currently working for a brand that’s truly personal to the owner (ethically sourced, fair trade and ecologically conscious), but when you’re too close to it, you may lose sight of the larger picture: this is a business. A brand guide helps bring back focus to the purpose of the brand.
Everyone is going to have very different parts to a brand guide. When I design a brand guide, these are 3 sections:
1 / The Brand
This section usually opens with a mission statement: a high level goal beyond making money. (After this point the order kind of gets wonky). In the brand section, there is always a part about who you are as a brand (not what you sell or produce). This is essentially what makes you different from all the other competitors out there. Next: the values, or pillars (as I like to call them). For example, Starbucks brand values are based around community involvement, ethical sourcing, environmental initiatives and diversity. Now we can’t forget about the history. This isn’t a 5-page long essay; it is literally a paragraph to three max! And of course, the alter-ego.
We are Sasha Fiercing this. Beyoncé has mentioned that she has had stage fright and to combat this, created an alter-ego to help her. When she’s on stage she’s no longer simply Beyoncé (when is Beyoncé ever just simple?), but her alter-ego Sasha Fierce – also the name of her third studio album – takes over. Now she no longer needs Sasha because she’s fierce enough.
My approach to the alter-ego section is to give your brand a human persona. For example, Bathorium named her Olivia and this section is written in the perspective of Olivia: how her life is going, what she likes, dislikes, what she’s attracted to. This is pretty much her life story. For Mint, we called her Pepper(mint). Same idea as mentioned before. I do this because when you understand who the brand is as a person, you start to design differently. You design with Olivia or Pepper in mind, you make decisions knowing if Olivia or Pepper would like it or not. Essentially, they are my target market when I design.
You can expand or reduce the Brand section and not necessarily follow this order. However, when you have these four parts you provide a solid foundation for your brand.
2/ Visual Identity
There are no tricks here. It’s literally as it is said. What does your brand look like? This will take up a substantial page count on your guide.
The Visual Identity section often beings with the logo, but I do things a little differently. I begin with a mood board. A mood board is a quick glimpse of the brand’s tone and aesthetic. When looking at the mood board, you should be able to tell if the brand is clean and simple, rustic and holistic, or warm and cozy. By understanding the emotion the brand conveys, you design more effectively.
Next is followed by the logo design in its truest form. The truest form means the correct colours, right kerning, and the emblem, if there is one. For example, I just finished designing a logo for Stray & Wander. The logo is simply “Stray & Wander” in true black. (A post about this logo will show up the following week. The post will include collateral pieces). It’s the logo that you use most often. Sometimes logos have emblems and sometimes they don’t.
Following your logo is the colour portion. One brand may use black while another may use ash grey as their darkest colour. There are primary colours (colours used most often to convey atmosphere or mood) and then secondary colours (used once in a while to break up the monotony). These colours are listed in Pantone colours: CMYK, RGB and HEXA decimal. This is truly important because all designers will need these codes at some point during the design process.
Next is your font. Literally all the typefaces your designers can use, from major heading to body text to fine print; considerations for a font-family for print and web; the language such as tone of speech, grammar, and specific word choices – pretty much all the grammar aesthetic component to your brand. You can literally put whatever you like in there as long as it assists with maintaining consistency and it’s on brand.
The final part is often not included but I think it’s really important, and that’s the photography aesthetic. Just like designers photographers have their own aesthetic. It’s important when they first join the brand that they should understand the photographic aesthetic, otherwise, you can tell when a brand switches photographers and most of the time, it’s not a smooth transition.
Just like The Brand section, you can mix and match the order that best fits your needs, but this is usually how I approach it.
3 / Do’s and Don’ts and Implementation
This final section is like do’s and don’t’s and how to use the brand guide. Pretty much the rules. For example: logos can’t be stretched, can’t be of a certain colour, and can’t be mixed with a certain font. These rules should be illustrated by mock ups or examples. For me, I usually show a social media post or a blog post that includes all the rules. How should the photography look? What’s the content like? Is it the correct tone?
Brand guides are tricky and can be very confusing, but designing a guide helps to ground a lot of ideas and can provide clarity when you (in the thick of it) are lost. As your brand grows and evolves, so should your guide. This is a guideline after all, not law. It flexes to the changes in your brands development and should reflect the future of the brand.