Which raises two questions: when to start laying down the guidelines, and when to finish.
"A good gardener never puts a trellis right next to a plant, and never hems it in with rigid lines."
Some people think that the earlier the brand is defined, the faster it will start shooting upwards. That’s OK for a brand that doesn’t need to live and expand, but I don’t know many entrepreneurs for whom that is the goal. Observing a gardener can teach us a lot. A good gardener never puts a trellis right next to a plant, and never hems it in with rigid lines. Instead, they leave enough space for the plant to work and lay down roots, become stronger and more stable on its own.
It’s not hard to understand that the same is true for a brand and its guidelines. A brand has to be tested by the land and objects around it. It is not a theoretical concept, and it will always be real life that will lay down the rules, not the guidelines, however elegant they may be.
So what should the guidelines include? Some nutrition! The things that will help the brand flourish. Its colour palette, fonts, graphic elements, its photographic direction… as well as the recipe for bringing everything together. Such as a mood board for example. After all, this isn’t a restaurant, where each dish on the menu is presented in a photo!
"It is really important to understand that applications live on beyond the guidelines, because they exist in real time."
For many years, I used to put together brand guidelines containing all the rules, down to the finest detail, for headed paper or business cards. As if they had to be created from a blank page each time, when in fact the source file was already there, and all you had to do was edit it to change a name or an address. These days I feel a bit guilty about all those trees that were chopped down just to flap about in the wind. And when I flick through one of these sets of guidelines with some of the applications developed later on, I realise that the original rules were no longer followed. But it wasn’t a mistake.
It is really important to understand that applications live on beyond the guidelines, because they exist in real time. Guidelines that attempt to contain them all are already obsolete. So just focus on the essential elements that constitute the brand. Graphic markers that will be able to assert their identity on any current or future medium.
"But as well as this consistency, guidelines must also inspire creativity…"
Let us not forget that brand guidelines have two key purposes for the brand: to ensure consistency and to make it easier to use. But as well as this consistency, guidelines must also inspire creativity, without which the message seems repetitive, so nobody listens any more, as it becomes passé and irrelevant.
Don’t turn your brand guidelines into archives. Make sure your rules are self-evident rather than restrictive. Breathe life into your brand so that it doesn’t die.