The design industry is huge, so huge we’ve divided it into different types of design. The most common types of design are product design, graphic design, web design, marketing design, and brand design. In this article, we’ll dive into what branding is and why it’s so important.
To learn more specifically about web and graphic design, check out this article Are web design and graphic design the same?
According to the Oxford dictionary, branding is: “The promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design”. Some might argue branding is merely the visual elements of a product or company but this is only one part of what branding is.
Branding is what people say about your product or company when you’re not in the room. How does a customer perceive you? Are you putting out the right message across your visual brand, tone, and voice? Branding helps you create a memorable impression. It’s how one brand stands the test of time while others die before they become a household name.
This diagram is a great visual example of what branding is and all the various factors that contribute to it.
At the top of the iceberg, what someone can easily see from the surface, are the logo, colors, and typography. But underneath the iceberg, what we can’t immediately see, are the vision, values, message, personality, strategy, and voice. All of these elements are vital and together make up a brand. But in this article, we’ll be diving into brand design specifically or those visual elements you see on the top of the iceberg.
Every established brand has its own set of brand guidelines. Essentially, brand guidelines are an instruction manual to the visual elements of the brand. Usually, they come in a multi-page document that’s easily shared with various people interacting with the brand. If you’ve ever worked as an in-house designer for a brand, your company likely already has one of these and you’ve referred to it often when designing.
If you’re working for a new company or hired as a freelance designer by a client to come up with these branded elements, then you have the opportunity to create the visual language and compile it together into a succinct and usable format.
How brand guidelines are designed and organized will vary from company to company. The larger and more established the company is, the more in-depth its standards are likely to be.
We’ll share a few examples and you’ll get to see firsthand the range of possibilities for how to organize content for these brand guidelines. Some are extensive microsites with subsections and various examples of what to do with their brand while others are one webpage linked to the about or company section of their site. There’s no right or wrong way to present guidelines, likely they will expand as the company continues to grow.
On a basic level, brand guidelines will share specs on the logo. Are there alternate logos like a horizontal, vertical, or icon-only version? You’ll get the exact color codes in RGB, Hex, CMYK, and Pantone. You’ll get to see the spacing involved in creating the logo and how much spacing should surround the logo whenever it's used with other elements. What about partnership logo lockups? Guidelines for this and more should also be noted.
The logo might have an accompanying color palette, the specs for these colors and how to use them will be outlined. The exact typography for headlines, body copy, and any special display fonts will also be noted. Is the brand rich with illustration or photography? You’ll see guidelines on the strategy behind how these assets are created and used.
Now that we understand the core elements of brand design and how important brand guidelines are to establishing a company’s brand, let’s share some visual examples from top brands we know and love. Be sure to click through and check out their microsites or one-pagers to fully experience the depth and context of these guidelines. Not to mention, some of them are beautiful websites themselves!
Over the years, brand guidelines have evolved and many of the big brands have microsites to easily share with external partners. Here are a few examples, starting with Starbucks. They share usage for their logo, colors, voice, typography, illustration, photography, and even a few case studies of their design in action. This microsite is truly beautiful, a brand expression in itself, and is an asset for communicating the Starbucks brand.
Uber also has a beautiful microsite to host their brand guidelines. Their guidelines cover 9 elements: Logo, color, composition, iconography, illustration, motion, photography, tone of voice, and typography. You even have the option to download the logo and other templates directly from these sections of the site.
YouTube’s brand guidelines live on a section of their website and is a bit more streamlined, all displayed within one page. A common section in the brand guidelines is to show what not to do with the logo. Usually, you don’t want to modify a brand’s logo in any form but just in case there is any confusion, a section like this is helpful to reference for external partners.
Dropbox also has a streamlined version of their guidelines. They share logo usage for the glyph and wordmark, placement, incorrect usages of the logo, application logos, product screenshots, and some disclaimer mentions for other uses.
Netflix’s brand microsite goes a step further and offers a login to share more assets. In their brand assets section, they share their logo and symbol with specs including the colors, placement, and also what not to do. If you’ve ever wondered the exact HEX color code of the Netflix logo, now you know.
Slack embeds their brand guideline document on the media kit page of their website. They’ve divided it up into three sections:
When designing brand guidelines, don’t forget to inject the spirit of the brand throughout, like how Slack does by including illustrations in their brand style like this.
Zendesk has a little fun with their branding microsite by naming it “Brandland”. Under “The brand” they share the basics such as philosophy, brand attributes, and messaging. Within “Design” they dive into brand identity, typography, color, and layout. They also share in detail guidelines for copywriting, film, and experiences. As you explore each section, every piece of their guidelines reflects the Zendesk brand, from the copy to the imagery and beyond. Here’s an excerpt from the presentation design section of their guidelines.
Audi uses a well-designed microsite. They share brand appearance and basics under “Fundamentals”. Under their guide section, they go into detail for user interface, communication media, corporate branding, corporate sound, motion pictures, Audi motorsport, and dealer facility. What’s great to note about the design and organization of Audi’s brand guidelines is how on-brand they are. You can sense the luxury and sophistication.
Spotify’s brand guidelines are displayed on one webpage with links jumping to specific sections such as attribution, using our content, using our logos, using our colors, logos and naming restrictions, fonts, and more. Here’s an excerpt example of logo spacing from their guidelines.
These are just a few examples of brand guidelines and all the elements that make up brand design. Do you have a favorite? Which set of brand guidelines did you find most helpful, that really showed you everything you needed to know about how to design with their brand? What can you learn from these examples?
Try researching your favorite brand, find their brand guidelines online, and see what you can learn. You’ll notice common themes such as logo usage, colors, and typography, but you may discover something new. Use these guidelines as inspiration to further understand branding. As a bonus challenge, try creating a simple brand standards guide for your brand or make one up for a made up brand!
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