Top 5 Brand Guidelines
Dzung Tran RGD, Freelance Designer & Branding Consultant, shares a list of 5 successful brand guidelines to look out for.
I’ve done my fair share of brand guidelines over the years from small single-pagers and quick reference guides to monster 300+ page brand guidelines.
Guidelines are not cookie-cutter templates that you can copy, paste and/or replace. There are a lot of factors that determine the type of guidelines that are needed for the client and it all comes down to the end user and company requirements. Larger companies require a more robust guideline where there are multiple users with different design skillsets and teams, whereas smaller companies and startups only require quick reference guides to get them up and running.
What's the difference between Style Guidelines and Brand Guidelines?
Style Guideline – Shorter, brief document that shows recommended logo, colours, fonts and graphic usage without getting into too much detail, but rather shows the essence of the brand at a high level. I like to view style guides as more look-and-feel vs technical. Single-pagers and quick reference guides are good use for building style guidelines.
Brand Guideline – A more robust document that covers the essential core brand elements but may also include brand strategy, tone and voice, messaging, and technical guides for creating various applications. These documents tend to be 25+ pages to capture a good breadth and range of the brand. If you need to make shorter documents for distributions to the various agencies and partners but don’t want to send them entire brand guidelines, create quick reference guides with essential core brand elements with some technical guides to help them get started.
Here are examples of guidelines that I feel are successful as well as things to watch out for:

1. Truth. created by Socio Design / MashCreative®

Inspirational and Beautiful
Visually stunning guideline with excellent use of typography and illustrations. Truth. is an agency with a small design team who is able to control and manage their own brand internally and can work with this type of guideline.

2. Skype (Microsoft)

Simple and Fun
Skype's current guideline is nowhere near as fun at their 2011 guidelines that came in two volumes: “Look” which was their visual guidelines; and “Think” which was their tone and voice, and messaging guidelines. The guidelines were clear, simple, fun and easy to read and understand. Microsoft has now streamlined all designs and products, so unfortunately this guideline does not exist anymore.
Caution: With guidelines that are more loose in technical details and messaging that can be interpreted is multiple ways, it’s important that the design and marketing team manage the brand properly, especially when other agencies and partners are using the guideline.

3. Luvata created by Muggier Madani / Redfern Deswign Ltd.

Technical and Detailed
To the other extreme, we have the very technical guidelines. Luvata's guideline has a nice balance of technical specifications with clean design. Technical guidelines are often found in the energy, tech, production and manufacturing sectors where technical details are required and/or a must with regulations. While technical guidelines aren’t as inspirational and creative, this serves a purpose for the brand – to be precise visually, in messaging, and tonality.

4. IBM

Design Thinking and Philosophy
I’ve really enjoyed how IBM has continuously evolved their brand over the years! With their current “IBM Design Language” and philosophy in place, their current guideline is very thorough but still very easy to understand and use. With more and more companies moving their guidelines online to internal portals or webDAM (Digital Asset Management) system, it’s easy for companies to update and add content as well as create resource libraries and templates for the entire organization and partners to access.

5. Google (Alphabet)

User and Technical Balance
With the development of Android’s Material Design, this paved the way for Google to do a huge overhaul of their design thinking and strategy. Their Material Design guideline is a beautiful example of bridging simple, easy to understand design and messaging, but also being able to deep dive into the technical side providing resources and examples for users. The site is constantly updating and changing to improve on user experience and adding new contents.
Final thoughts…
Brand guidelines are living, breathing assets for the company and should be updated and changed over time. Small tweaks and updates should be done on a regular bases to keep up with either new technology, accessibility issues, or keeping the brand fresh and current. Once a brand guideline is completed and handed over to the client, it should be reviewed several months down the line to ensure that all elements are aligned or in working order.


Published August 2019