Tuesday, May 30, 2017

When Should Designers Go Off-Brand

There are times when I'm asked to design something "exciting". And that often means using colors not in the company brand palette, design layouts that don't necessarily reflect the brand's tone, and use fonts not identified as part of a company's brand.

The reason for requests like this involve shifts in marketing approaches, audiences, and medium such as social channels. Some people think that the need to establish a consistent brand is sometimes at odds with making sales. So, it's important to go "off-brand" in those situations.

But is that true? Are brand guidelines in opposition to creative design?

If you think that a brand guideline's purpose is to keep the designs consistently boring regardless the message and audience, of course this is true. But, that is not the purpose of brand guidelines.

Brand guidelines are in place to make it clear what an organization represents and how to consistently make what it represents clear and accurate on a consistent basis. In other words, it guides how every communication should speak the way a company wants to speak, to look the way a company wants to look, and to behave in a way the company wants to be perceived as behaving.

The advantage of brand consistency is customer trust, good reputation, and credibility. Brand guidelines help achieve this by providing a standard to measure design decisions, to test messaging, and to gauge the accuracy of perceptions — against what an organization thinks of itself.

The danger of not thinking through a clear brand approach will be inconsistency, eroded trust, and a poor reputation. Without a clear voice and tone in all messaging, there will be unintentional gaffs and missteps in communication. And each brand-stretching design project will depart further from the organization's self-perception.

So, what about those times when the brand misses the mark?

Rather than creating a bunch of "off-brand" designs in different situations, it's time to recognize a shift in brand messaging. It's time to clarify the voice and tone the organization seeks to convey, the audience it's speaking to, and how it needs to be perceived in all media.

Then update the brand guide to more accurately represent the communication reality.

The guide will bring messaging and design together for a consistent voice and tone to its audience based on these new realities. And all members of an organization can share the same vision, along with the designer.

Photo courtesy Steven Ung of Flickr.com

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