Companies that want to stand out from their competitors almost always invest in a distinct visual identity.
The best known element is the logo, and everyone recognises the Coca-Cola script, the Nike “Swoosh”, or the green and yellow sunflower BP portentously call the “Helios.”
But the logo typically forms just one small part of a brand’s overall visual identity, which may encompass everything from colour schemes and typefaces to taglines and icon sets.
Making sure that a brand identity is consistent in every place a potential customer might encounter it – from a mobile app to a shop sign – is not easy.
Before long, without a good deal of diligence, the look and feel of a brand can start to fragment. The shade of red on the stationery might be different to that on the packaging. The spacing around the logo on Facebook might look a little off.
It can all start to feel sloppy. Being a well run operation that sweats the details can begin to look more like an aspiration than a reality.
This is why companies use brand identity guidelines to help keep things on track.
These documents, which can run to hundreds of pages, detail precisely how a brand ought to be presented in every conceivable scenario.
They will be solemnly given to any employee, partner or supplier that has cause to use the brand’s identity with strict instructions to follow it to the letter.
Some graphic manuals created for iconic brands are collectors items now, and successful crowdfunding campaigns have recently supported the reproduction of classic mid-20th Century editions originally produced for NASA and British Rail.
But strict guidelines are not needed in every scenario.
The acclaimed New York based designer Michael Bierut recently happened across a huge march in support of breast cancer awareness with pink clothing and signs stretching as far as the eye could see.
“None of them matched, and all of them were beautiful,” Bierut wrote afterwards. “There was no guidelines manual, no design direction. Instead, here was something thrilling: individual creativity in the service of collective solidarity.”