How to interpret and follow brand guidelines

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Pro tips for following brand guidelines without limiting your creativity.

The idea of following brand guidelines is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention on most design courses. “I’ve never come across an intern or graduate who understands the fundamentals of brand guidelines,” says Ellie Pearson, senior designer and studio manager at Cambridge-based agency Mobas. “But it’s not their fault: they weren’t told about it, and neither was I.”

The concept itself, though, is quite simple. Brand guidelines are a set of rules that dictate how all elements of a brand should be applied. Designers are given a detailed outline of a brand’s preferred colours, fonts, logos and so on, and how each are to be used. But what students are often taken aback by is the sheer range of things covered by brand guidelines.

“I was surprised at first by the complexity and depth of brand guidelines,” recalls Jess Dutton, junior designer at Mobas. “For some larger clients, they’re incredibly extensive. You think of brands having one or two primary colours, but I didn’t know they could have secondary colours too.”

Dutton was also surprised by the distinctions between internal and external colours for collateral that will be used for staff and for customers. “It’s a lot more complex than meets the eye,” she says.

If you’re new to working with brand guidelines, here are some pro tips for making sure you get the most out of them – without stifling your creativity…

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