Throughout my design career, I have come to loathe the phrase “strict brand guidelines.” To me it meant shoehorning bad colors into good design, having no creative flexibility at all, and/or getting shoved out by an overbearing internal designer. However, recently I have gained a fresh perspective about designing within brand guidelines to make these headaches less of a inevitability.

The purpose of brand guidelines is to maintain a consistent voice, personality, and overall look and feel for all marketing materials that represent the company. Problem is, if the company is too controlling about what all materials should look like, then designs become simple, boring and redundant. In order to execute a successful design that adheres to brand guidelines, you need three things:

  1. Complete understanding of clear, well thought-out brand guidelines. If your client does not have brand guidelines established or is willing to refresh them, take the time to construct them with your client. What are your clients objectives? How do they want the public to see them as a company (professional and highly competent, or maybe passionate and approachable)? What makes them standout from their competitors? Once these questions are answered, come up with moodboards that set the tone for the overall look and feel of their site. Your final approved moodboard can serve as brand guidelines your client can use for future marketing materials
  2. A client who has complete understanding of well thought-out brand guidelines. This step is one of the more crucial and possibly one of the most ignored. If your client or your client’s main point of contact doesn’t fully understand their brand guidelines, or worse, doesn’t know they exist, you end up designing for a moving target. Take the time to go through the brand guidelines with your client, ask questions, clarify concerns. How old are the brand guidelines? Are they strictly followed in your current marketing material? Has your company evolved but your brand guidelines have not? Not only will this establish that you and your client are on common ground, you can also work out any outdated or poorly designed kinks in the brand guidelines.
  3. The power to establish yourself as the alpha designer. We all need to admit that we as designers have an ego. It’s actually a good thing in a lot of respects. We take pride in our work, we hone our design and sweat over it and nurture it till we are satisfied. Yes, we must put our ego aside when taking critique, but critique from another designer should be that outside eye that fixes your design onto the right track. Critique should help polish, refine, or if necessary, stop the designer from going down a dead end road by telling them to start over. Critique should not be the other designers personal preference or instilling their own style on the design. Unfortunately this type of critique often comes from the internal designer. Sometimes internal designers don’t appreciate the design reins being taken from their hands and given to an outside designer they don’t know. Too often what happens is they interject themselves into the project with conflicting design directions. This either leads to a confused patchwork design or the internal designer selling their own mockups that do not meet objectives to their team. The best way to combat this is either stipulate before the project starts that the internal designer may not be involved in the process at all, or bringing in the internal designer early in the project. If the designer feels heard and understood, they will have more trust in you and will feel like they had some voice in the final product.