Our clients sometimes resist one of the early exercises we do with them, which is to develop their brand design system. This means making decisions about brand fonts, colors, and the direction of art and photography that they’re going to use. (Some brands take this even further by defining how certain groups of information are visually presented, or even decide their brand’s standard button appearance).
The base “resistance” to developing a design system that we encounter is that clients sometimes think that by concerning themselves with fonts and colors they are being frivolous.
However, in the development of a design system, the sum of the small decisions put together has an impact on the polished presentation of the brand.
Branding is a business system
Creating brand guidelines to guide your the visual elements that represent your brand is creating a system. Building systems in your business to handle repeatable tasks is one key way that businesses become easier to manage and run.
There are tons of books about systematizing your business, and you may have a number of systems in place to handle key parts of your business: accounting, generating invoices, on boarding, how you approach the actual work that you do, checklists, etc.
Systems are awesome because they provide time and money savings: decide once, then repeat. This repetition allows for precision and consistency in things being produced. Systems also create scalability: it is easy to scale up an existing system, hire other people to manage it, etc.
By having systems in place, you can save time by solve repeated issues in an effortless way, because once they are in place they do not require intensive thought or effort. Most businesses do this by creating brand guidelines or design systems that set the rules for content creation.
Brand guidelines serve 5 primary functions:
- They set the rules for your brand
- They ensure correct usage
- They avoid confusion
- They ensure continuity
- They make your life easier by templating the creation of new materials.
Brand Guidelines decrease decision load
Creating brand guidelines to guide your visual assets are creating a system; and this system helps ease decision load on teams. A brand style guide saves you precious time and money by putting forth a repeatable process for developing new collateral, advertising, and web modules by creating a simple-to-follow process. It removes the guesswork and decision-making of small design decisions in favor of big-picture problem solving, while helping maintain the same look and feel as existing brand assets when developing new content.
- Make for better decisions – allowing you to build on existing components rather than starting from scratch.
- Allow for faster turnaround – by reusing existing elements
- Free time and headspace for higher-order thinking – by allowing you to focus on the areas of your project that deal with the unknown questions or features.
- Reduce rework and maintenance, and template the creation of new materials.
- Ensure correct usage, and help avoid confusion. – In design, you want similar elements to all receive the same treatment. When tweaks are made to individual items in a larger group of items, then the design starts to look uneven and unprofessional.
- Create a cohesive look and feel for the brand: A brochure should be instantly recognizable as being from a business, and look like the interiors of that business’ physical locations. Likewise their website should reflect all the hours they’ve spent in careful curation of furniture, fixtures, etc for at those locations.
Iconic logos and brands are iconic and instantly recognizable because of consistent logo usage, colors, and branding elements. You would not recognize Coca Cola if the logo and colors were displayed differently and presented differently across different stores, restaurants, media opportunities, etc.
Design systems and brand guidelines help build brand equity
Consistent branding also builds and protect brand equity. Brands are an asset, and their consistent representation helps build their recognition factor. Because brands become recognizable through repetition, its recognition factor is part of the brand’s value. Further, companies with repeatable systems are more valuable to potential acquirers – because systems make it easier to expand the business, onboard new hires, and more.
Design Systems / Branding Guidelines are Living, Breathing things
Most importantly, brand guidelines are a living breathing thing; they don’t have to be an end point. New and/or omitted concepts can be added as business needs change, and guidelines can be altered to fit the times as well. As changes are made, you’ll want to share that information with those in your company who are designing pitch decks, presentations, business cards, new web pages, etc. so that everyone remains on the same page.
The way that businesses approach design has changed dramatically in recent years, and consistent, professional design has come to communicate professionalism across sectors. While design is something that makes companies look professional and projects an image for their products or brands, its influence continues to grow. Design is being used more and more to solve real business problems, with entire organizations pivoting to make design integral to their processes because they recognize it’s good for the bottom line. – the most famous and popular products now are those that are well-designed and provide a superior user experience.