There’s a tool every designer uses every day, assuming their client isn’t a one-man band or fledgling start-up. Yes, it’s every designer’s favourite bugbear: brand guidelines.

Whenever we start working with a new client at twogether, the first thing the creative team wants are the brand guidelines. Within these hallowed pages lies (hopefully) a cornucopia of fonts, colours, imagery and graphic jewellery for us to sprinkle on our creations and bring concepts to life. Of course, in reality, branding is a lot less frivolous than that. It’s all about presenting a consistent message and a unified look and feel to the audience. Brand guidelines are key to ensuring that happens.

Brand guidelines can vary wildly in length from a couple of pages to hundreds. They can be inspiring at times and frustrating at others. Some are wonderful pieces of design in their own right. The best are springboards that push a brand to greater heights; the worst (naming no names) seem to exist only to catch you out or block any creativity. But we aren’t put off easily! The designer’s mission (often spurred on by a maverick client hoping to make their mark) is to find gaps in the guidelines that allow us to push the message in a new and distinctive way, while still respecting the brand.

One example of really stretching a brand is the ‘Tame the Bear’ campaign that twogether created for Sungard AS. The guidelines didn’t say we couldn’t use fake fur, so we went ahead and did just that. The furry direct mailer we produced roared at the recipient when they opened it (the guidelines also didn’t say not to use animal noises). This memorable mailer formed part of an integrated campaign that achieved an ROI of 60:1, evidence enough that sometimes it’s worth bending the brand rules.

Most of the time brand guidelines are enforced by the organisation’s brand team. At twogether we also have our own internal ‘Brand Police’ with clients being assigned a ‘Brand Guardian’ (BG). The BG (usually a member of the design team) has to acquire in-depth knowledge of the guidelines. Any work we produce for a specific client is overseen by the BG. They check, for example, that there is enough room around the logo, enough R in the RGB value and definitely no Comic Sans – ever.

So, are guidelines a blessing or a curse? Well, I referred earlier to brand guidelines as a tool and that’s exactly what they are. An indispensable tool, really. In today’s multimedia marketing landscape, designers need them more than ever to help keep campaigns visually consistent. So even though sometimes the pages of ‘DO NOT’s can make a designer’s heart sink, the truth is we’d be lost without them.