Written by Josh McInerney RGD
I love brand guideline booklets. If you’re a design nerd like me you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The graphic bible that gets meticulously put together after a new brand launch. All those detailed pages talking about the logo (how to use the logo, how not to use the logo – ixnay the drop shadows! – typography and font sizes, pantone colours and the overall brand ethos) get me giddy with excitement.
Graphic standards manuals are a big part of any branding project in helping to steer the graphic and visual sophistication of a business – yet so many of these things end up collecting dust in someone’s office drawer. What up with that?
Nothing to see here
I suppose if you look at it through the eyes of a non-designer, the brand booklet is just that: another booklet. Another document thrown up on the corporate intranet you’re told to read when you have a moment and one that falls way down the list of priorities if they ever decide to even read it at all.
Because, hey, a document about proper font sizes, hex colours and new logo positioning on the office stationery is a giant snoozefest.
When I started working at Ryerson University as the Manager of Design and Creative Services, the university had just finished working on their new graphic identity system and overall brand strategy. In my new position, I was tasked with helping to implement the new design system throughout all university material and faculty material.
So I put on a giant pot of coffee and started by reading the graphic standards manual. It was an in-depth document that covered not just the graphic usage but the use of language, brand tone and essence, and the new story of Ryerson.
For me that was one of the really cool things to dive into; learning how the revived message and vision of Ryerson University came to be, what it meant and how it would be sustained and nurtured over the coming years.
When the Ryerson Corporate brand website went up the graphic standards and brand booklet was posted for all to view.
We posted and waited and wondered: if we post it, will they come?
Rallying the troops
Everyone was already pretty busy, and the committee knew that hopping online to read a brand guideline website and design document might rate low on the fun-things-to-do list. But everyone at the university also knew this massive project was happening.
Faculty and staff knew it that implementation was imminent, and as with any new brand launch there was going to be a ton of questions – and ones that went beyond fonts and colours (why is this necessary? What was wrong with our old logo? Do I now have to throw out all my the marcom materials I just paid for?)
I began to think that maybe a new brand launch this big, affecting so many departments, faculty, students and staff needed another kind of communication channel beyond a website.
So I came up with the idea of a Ryerson Brand Workshop – a travelling roadshow of sorts, minus the carnies. I extended an open invitation to any faculty interested in learning about the new brand and identity.
A senior marketing officer and I would walk through through a pared-down version of the brand guidelines, highlighting the big picture points like why the Brand relaunch was critical, or the new story we were telling our audience and how the new graphic design architecture would reflect that. The whole presentation would take 45 minutes, max – or at least, I hoped.
So I threw the invite out and waited for responses.
Can we talk?
After about two days, the emails started trickling in. By the end of that week I booked had three workshops over the next two weeks. And four more beyond that. All told, I completed 25 presentations over six months, with audiences ranging from five to 35 people. It was actually pretty great.
The simple roundtable format that allowed us to talk face-to-face with people really resonated. It gave us the chance to tell the story of Ryerson. Before diving into the nitty gritty of grid structures and stationery templates, I think having the chance to tell the university’s new brand story and vision was critical in getting the audience on-board regarding the importance/necessity of the relaunch, as well as the reasoning behind the new graphic architecture.
And whether they loved the new brand or not, these presentations showed me that people were engaged – really engaged, and they cared about what was happening with the image of the university on a grand scheme.
We did answer a lot of burning questions and through these workshops, more questions came to light which helped lead us to create more solutions and design tools that we never would have known about otherwise.
The best part, people now reach out more and more to see if what they’re working on is in alignment with the new brand. They want to be to be a part of helping build the new vision, which is pretty amazing.
So if you’re about to upload your new branding style book to the company intranet or you’ve realized your current one is collecting dust, it might be time for you to find new ways to start the conversation.