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Sometimes you just have to learn the rules and break them

Designer and resident rule breaker, Victoria Pinnington, takes a journey through the world of brand guidelines. 

Brand guidelines, book, manual, toolkit, style sheet, whatever you want to call it as designers we’ve all delved into this meticulous world. Having worked with a number of businesses and organisations to help create guidelines, it can be a bit of a balancing act, putting in enough information so that everyone understands, yet allowing the flexibility to encourage and inspire and not be a straightjacket for creativity. Throw in the blurred definition and expectations of what guidelines are, limited budgets and the mix of skills held by users and it’s quite a challenge.

A World Of Inspiration

It’s a common misconception that the production of guidelines is the completion of a brand, when in fact they are just the start of a journey.

As we’re all experiencing on a daily basis brands are becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and adaptive. No longer is brand application as straightforward as a letterhead or poster.

Whilst it is arguably the most recognisable element, a brand is much more than a logo. A brand must embody the principles of a company and signify a lifestyle choice that users want to be a part of. With this comes increasing demand for brands to be recognised and experienced through colours, fonts and imagery. The personality of a brand must have meaningful impact and has never been more important regardless of the media or outcome.

With this in mind if we are asking our consumers to live and experience the brand - guidelines should only be produced with this in mind. Creating a brand world, rather than guidelines provides a great balance between guiding and proving tools to create and inspire. Should be an extension of the brand.

Rules Are There For A Reason

Yes, rules are there for a reason and no one wants to see their brand pulled apart, however if your guidelines become a never ending list of restrictions, designers will not feel inspired or engaged. When creating guidelines our role as brand guardian should be enough to provide structure and content that includes as much personality as possible. Creative, skilled people want the freedom to design and make so we need to put the excitement into it, using guidelines as a platform to really bring your brand to life and engage the user. Design teams are increasingly working across different sites or even time zones so we need to police it in some way.

For me the ultimate endorsement for successful guidelines has to be seeing what others do with it. The new and innovative things we’d be proud of and the ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ moments. Here are five examples that will have longevity, engage designers to keep producing new and innovative designs.



Comprehensive and of course fun this brand book looks good enough to eat. It’s all about living the brand, with each page carefully considered as a unique way for the personality of the M&M’s brand to have impact.


Norwich Cathedral

Clever, witty, on brand and inspiring, is this the holy grail of brand guidelines? Embracing the move to digital technology and not letting it inhibit creativity. The days of creating the beautifully printed brand guidelines may be long gone but this hasn’t stopped them creating a digital brand guidelines where no hard copies we’re ever produced, however it’s visualised as a pocket bible. Something you just want to pick up.



Actively encouraged to experiment with layouts across applications. Different parties picking this document up due to the diverse nature if whats on display.


Gordon’s Gin

Refreshing to see a brand world that is re-energised for creatives. Mood boards providing a snapshot into this brand world that you can immerse yourself in.



Simple yet effective, MailChimp is a great example of branding being much more than design. They put the user experience at the heart of their brand. As this example from it’s Tone of Voice section of it’s guidelines shows it’s interactive layout gives you a sense of how a user might feel in each scenario and how to speak to the use.

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