The Architecture of Brand Guidelines, Including Typography

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Typography’s importance in expressing a brand

Professional designers and developers are routinely exposed to brand guidelines to follow when writing and designing. Clients typically provide these guidelines to their agencies, and companies distribute them to their internal creative teams. The primary function of any set of brand guidelines is to help maintain consistency in how the brand is expressed, whatever the medium or channel may be.

At some point, after years of following brand guidelines, senior-level creative pros are often asked to author or at least update guidelines. While my previous posts have covered why typography is such a critical element for any brand, and how to choose the right type for a brand or project, this post will focus on the authoring side of things for those who are tasked with creating or updating brand guidelines for their client or company.

The architecture of brand guidelines

The depth and breadth of a brand or style guide can depend on several factors—primarily what kind of company it is and what they need to outline—but there are a few common denominators, often “bucketed” into Editorial and Visual considerations. We’ll look at those first, then outline what might want to include in—you guessed it—the typography section.

Extensis Brand Attributes Example

One of the Extensis brand attributes is “Love”.

Editorial

  • Brand tone and voice. This section provides a description and examples of how the brand’s “personality” is expressed in copy. Brands can run the gamut from “serious” to “playful,” “professional” or “credible” to “fun” and “informal.”
  • Brand promise, pillars or attributes (3-5 is a typical number). Even if not overtly expressed, these pillars inform how the brand is expressed at all consumer-facing touchpoints. A high-end industrial design firm’s might be “innovative,” “artful,” and “exceptional.”
  • Product naming guidelines and other legal considerations. These might include brand and/or product naming systems and how they should be treated in writing. For legal reasons, a common guideline is to write all product names with a “TM” (unregistered trademark) or an (R) (registered mark) at the first or only mention, as this is important to protecting the trademark.
Color palette applied to the Extensis logo

Color palette applied to the Extensis logo

Visual

  • Logo. The logo is the most important visual element of any brand. This section might outline specifications like clear-space around the logo, proper sizes and colors, and do’s and don’ts.
  • Colors. Outlines primary, secondary and background colors with details on Pantone color, RGB, CMYK for print and HEX/HTML breakdowns for web.
  • Photography standards (and do’s and don’ts). Guidelines around what kinds of photos to use and their stylization (ex: black and white only, staged vs. informal, etc.), how to use them, and oftentimes how not to use them (ex: no “staged” stock imagery).
  • Co-branding. How the main brand logos should be treated when appearing with a partner or perhaps the main brand’s sub-brand.
  • Identity systems like icons. (See Adobe example below for their Creative Suite icon system, or the Extensis brand guidelines below showing the icon system for our products).
Extensis logo with sub-product branding

Extensis logo with sub-product branding

And last but not least…

  • Typography (for print, web and desktop apps).
    • Rationale for how the typefaces support and express the brand
    • It’s common to show a waterfall of at least a primary and secondary font or font pair, along with all the faces in the family the brand might utilize.
    • Guidelines for using the typeface in different mediums (print, web, video, presentations and internal documents). Many brand guidelines still cite web-safe fonts for online assets, but that should be changing with great web font services like WebINK that make it easy to use just about any font you want on your website.
Extensis brand typography, including primary and secondary typefaces

Extensis brand typography, including primary and secondary typefaces

You might see a few other sections in today’s brand guidelines covering templates such as:

  • Where to access the templates online
  • Print, Brochures, letterhead and stationary, collateral, newsletters, internal communications, etc.
  • Web. Web page, email and landing page templates
  • E-channels. Email signatures, presentation templates

Last thoughts: make your brand guidelines all-access

To maintain consistency, it’s important to make sure your brand guidelines are easily accessible to any internal and external partners who may be touching the brand. Larger companies tend to be more proprietary about their guidelines, but most create PDFs and even HTML versions that can be accessed online to help maintain that consistency.

Share your brand guidelines with WebINK’s readers

Have you had the good fortune of creating, working on, or updating a set of brand guidelines? If the guidelines aren’t proprietary or confidential, post a link to your work in the comments—we’d love to see it.

Further Reference

Brand Typography and Application
Spelling out your brand: Why type matters
Typography Guidelines and References by Smashing Editorial

Examples of brand guidelines:

Blackberry brand guidelines
Adobe brand guidelines (from 2010)

A lot of universities have their guidelines online. Here are just a few:

Duke University
Georgetown University
University of Pennsylvania
Yale University

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