We've talked before about what a brand is: the sum total of all the impressions your customers have of you, everything from your logo to your customer service to your product quality. As such, it's important that you control all of those touchpoints. Everything you're doing sends a message, and it's your job as a brand manager to guide and direct what message is being sent.
At Lucidpress, we're obsessed with branding, and we keep a close eye on what iconic companies are doing to maintain — and to change — their brands. And, lucky for us, many of these companies post their brand style guides online, giving us an inside look at how they do what they do.
Brand style guides provide instruction on how to properly use the building blocks of a brand’s look and feel. Brand guidelines cover logos, fonts, colors, visuals, voice and tone, and other elements that make up brand identity. Style guides can even include a brand’s story, philosophy, inspiration and positioning statement. Every brand guide is unique, but they all serve to help employees maintain brand consistency.
A frequently updated and easily accessible brand style guide will go a long way in making sure no one at your company is making off-brand collateral. If everyone knows how and where to find your brand guidelines, they can just quickly pop in and check the rules without needing to ask a designer or risk publishing something that doesn’t look like your brand.
Sounds pretty useful, right? It is — and if you want to see how brand style guides work in the real world, read on to check out some of our favorite style guides from brands with excellent style.
1. Nike Football
First on our list is a sub-brand of Nike, their football (soccer) brand. Nike places so much importance on branding, they gave their football equipment its own brand manual.
From the title page, we're immediately introduced to the theme of this brand with large, blocky, all-caps words standing boldly against a backdrop of football players who just might be taking their celebration a little too far. We see wild exuberance—some faces calling to mind the passion and thrill of winning, others exuding the primal tension of a coming riot. The lettering of the contents page hyphenates the word in the middle (CON-TENTS) as though the brand is so big, brash and in-your-face that it can't be contained on one line.
Deeper inside we find more of the same: instead of "brand identity guide" or "design rules," they have "DESIGN COMMANDMENTS," matching the statement to "BE BIG, EXPRESSIVE, UNAPOLOGETIC." Their color palette is called "GRITTY" and "RUTHLESS." Even when they're depicting something more refined and highly crafted—the quality of their shoes—the photo shows a shoe on a workbench, a hammer on the left, pliers on the right, all resting on a rumpled piece of black leather.
Hardly a page goes by when we don't see a footballer screaming through the pain, hair soaked with sweat, in this highly effective, emotive manual. View the full brand guidelines here.
Taking a huge step away from the brutalism of Nike's branding guidelines, Skype is whimsical, clever and subtle, with a dry joke in the fine print below a bigger joke. They're every bit as controlling—they're not allowing their pleasant and affable copy to water down their brand—but they convey the message with a wink and a grin: "We're not a rules and regulations kind of company, nonetheless here are some examples of what we think is cool and what should be punishable by a red-hot poker to the buttocks."
Whereas other brand manuals are rife with photography, Skype focuses first and foremost on type and imagery (it even has a whole section about how to draw clouds, if you choose not to use the already cloud-like logo). And there is a large amount of fribble and flummery in their clip art (four-armed businessmen, camels erupting in magic and sparks) to enhance the Skype layouts.
Overall, the Skype brand identity guidelines read as a how-to for creating a dream-like, positively charged user experience—one that is controlling of the brand but gives permission to play. View the full brand guidelines here.
3. Macaroni Grill
This gorgeous brand manual, evocative of a restaurant menu or even an artist's sketchbook, was made, in part, to redeem the Macaroni Grill brand from an ignominious demise. Focusing more on the feel and philosophy of the company rather than the nuts and bolts of asset placement and font size, they managed to make the company feel both new and old: old in the sense that it appears to be built on tradition and gravitas, but new in taking what has faltered and lifting it from defeat.
It begins with an acronym: CRAVE, which sets the tone for the entire rebranding. C for Crafted, R for Regalare, A for Amore Famaglia, V for Vino Divino, and finally E for Eataly. Obviously, with a standard like "Eataly" (a play on "Italy"), you know you aren’t getting a traditional Italian experience, but they play enough of the notes right to make the piece come together. Right from the beginning, we see that Artisan, Unique, Fresh and Genuine are positives, while Authentic Italian is not. And though Amore Famiglia (Love of Family) sounds an awful lot like competitor Olive Garden's "When You're Here, You're Family," the execution has a more upscale, artisan feel. Vino Divino sounds like they ply the wine generously—making sure it's not only a good product, but that they don't scrimp on portions either.
Finally, Eataly punches up the fun factor, promoting self-expression and sociality. Never cheesy, never shy, Macaroni Grill presents a beautiful manual that has something new to say in the Italian restaurant chain—higher scale than Olive Garden, but with a menu and atmosphere that appeals to a more compromising American palette. View the full brand guidelines here.
The Boy Scouts of America have a huge branding challenge: They need to make a brand manual that not only conveys their message ("Prepared. For Life."), but they need to do so in a way that allows for the customization of their brand in, literally, hundreds of thousands of troops. There are 2.4 million scouts in America plus more than one million adult leaders, and any of those leaders might want to make a flyer or poster or brochure.
Because of this huge group of volunteers, most of whom do not have graphic design experience, the corporate brand guidelines need to be clear, concise and easy to use. The BSA's brand manual, therefore, offers a lot of hand-holding, as it might be the only brand manual these volunteers will ever see. There is more to this manual than just guidelines about font size and color palette, though. The book explains marketing terms that the average scoutmaster or den mother might not be familiar with. And for each logo and trademark asset, there are ample do's and don'ts to advise the layman on how to move forward.
These brand guidelines, which are built upon a rich tradition of imagery, slogans, and trademarks, are a perfect example of how an organization with many products and variations can clearly and succinctly build a cohesive brand platform that integrates common design elements into disparate categories of symbolism. View the full brand guidelines here.
5. Jones Soda
Jones Soda's brand is eccentric and unconventional. Where other soda companies rely heavily on paid commercial advertising, Jones has built a cult following based on product placement and two famous RVs that hand out free soda up and down the East and West Coasts. And while they occupy a small space on the shelf at a grocery store, Jones Soda is also strategically stocked in music stores, tattoo parlors, and clothing stores that are as quirky as the soda's own packaging.
This brand guide is built around the tagline "Your photos, your soda, your brand." (Perhaps Jones's most famous aspect is the photos on the bottles—all submitted by customers. And while they surely use the same photo more than once, at a retail level you'd be hard-pressed to find more than one of each picture.) The black-and-white photography is offset by the vibrant color palette of the soda itself, as well as the bright greens, electric oranges, and glowing pinks of the boxes. Each box depicts a quote submitted by customers, and the copy on the sides is every bit as original as the rest of the brand.
It would be a mistake to say that the brand doesn't take itself seriously. The design elements and customer engagement are finely tuned, demonstrating that a brand can be carefully orchestrated and still be fun. View the full brand guidelines here.
6. Animal Planet
While most brand guidelines offer something in the way of a mission or positioning statement, the Animal Planet brand manual limits its commentary to a selection of "emotional connections" that people will feel in regard to their TV shows.
It may be the first manual I've ever seen where "sadness" is a message they actually want to convey. But that lies at the heart of its strength. It is a manual that emphasizes storytelling, and the experiential viewing that its customers will embrace. A good example is the (now off-the-air) Meerkat Manor, a show that, through clever screenwriting and narration, turns a nature documentary into a soap opera full of intrigue, romance, and betrayal.
Meanwhile, the online brand guidelines show the interaction of a number of fonts, declaring their primary typeface to be Arial Bold (the poor man's Helvetica), but showing how that standard can be placed with the iconic logo (with the perfect 7.6 degree tilt), as well as examples with the Ed Interlock font for Orangutan Island. View the full brand guidelines here.
7. Barnes & Noble
In a clever-yet-inevitable way, the Barnes & Noble brand guidelines are designed to look like a book, with a title, foreword, preface and so on. The very first line of the preface begins "We are so much more than books." It's a positioning statement of who the company is, how they are facing the current market (with eBooks on the rise, grossing $3.4 billion in the last year), and how they are moving forward. They are more than just books—they are an experiential brand, with an experiential position. While Amazon sells you books through a screen and delivers them in a cardboard box a few days later, Barnes & Noble is all about the sensory experience—the touch of paper and leather, the comfort of overstuffed chairs, and the smell of freshly-baked pastries and coffee.
The brand guidelines are augmented with a competitive analysis, listing their four biggest rivals and explaining why Barnes & Noble is superior: "You're not just getting a book. You're walking into a space, experiencing it with every one of your senses, and discovering things you probably hadn't expected." The brand manual also presents a new logo, at once more modern yet more friendly and inviting than past versions. The type still holds a bookishness to it, but with the swoop of a whimsical R and the pronounced ampersand (I love the ampersand!).
The new primary color palette—Brilliant Blue and Cozy Navy—give a casually inviting feel, and the somewhat-autumnal secondary colors make designs pop without overstatement. View the full brand guidelines here.
As the company is large, with a hundred fingers in a hundred pies, we're just reviewing the brand guidelines of the new Google Logotype, the Dots, and the Google G. The new logotype—the sans serif that appeared last year—is imbued with "childlike simplicity" (a Google video shows the new logo being written as though it was on a grammar school's middle-lined paper). It is mathematical, an ode to geometry. It was designed not only for a new brand aesthetic, but to scale up and down while looking the same across many platforms—a problem the previous logo struggled with.
Not to be outdone is the simple Google G: a circle with a small cut taken out, and a reformed horizontal. It is designed for small applications where the full logotype wouldn't have room to appear, but they've made it similar in many ways. The G is essentially the new G from "Google," but with a thicker line weight, and it incorporates all the colors from the full word. It is recognizable at once as being the younger sibling of the full logotype. Finally, they've introduced the dots, which they refer to as "a dynamic and perpetually moving state of the logo." The dots are emotive: gently rolling when awaiting a command, expanding when being spoken to, forming a turning circle when thinking, and so on. The colors of the four dots are the same as the colors of the logotype and the Google G: blue, green, yellow, and red. View the full brand guidelines here.
This is a rebrand for the social media giant, moving away from the heavy "twitter" and lower-case t-in-a-square. The former brand style was that of a social media company trying to fit into the same visual category as other social platforms, like LinkedIn's "in," Facebook's "f" and Instagram's square lens. The new logo is either a blue-on-white or white-on-blue bird (with some controlled allowance for a white bird on a muted photograph). Along with the logo, they have guidelines for how usernames and hashtags should appear—Helvetica, with negative tracking.
(There is a fun page illustrating the misuse of the logo, admonishing designers not to use drop shadows, patterns, or my favorite: "Do not use metaphorically to suggest a bird. It's not a bird, it's a symbol of Twitter.")
Everything is simple and clear in these guidelines. Blue is the only color allowed, along with various shades of gray. Helvetica and Roman are the only fonts allowed. And the manual shows the proper formatting of a tweet treatment. View the full brand guidelines here.
Finally, we get to the Walmart brand guidelines, one of the most comprehensive brand guidelines I've ever seen. It first discusses the brand, quoting founder Sam Walton: "The feeling our customers have when they leave the store determines how soon they'll be back." Written in 2007, these guidelines introduce the slogan and brand message of "Save money. Live better." This is the first emergence of the yellow "spark" at the end of the word. (Previously, Walmart had been hyphenated—Wal-Mart—but that is gone from the new brand manual.)
There is a lot to be found here, as Walmart is the largest company in the world. The style guidelines recognize this, and they appear to be a little more lenient than most of the style guides looked at here. There is allowance for the blue and yellow logo to be straight blue, or straight black, or all white on a green background, and on and on. The color palette is opened wider: allowing three shades of blue, orange, yellow, and two shades of green. And even that is negotiable: other colors can be used "as long as the spark is able to maintain its contrast and integrity." View the full brand guidelines here.
Hopefully, these examples inspire you to think about all the great things that awesome brand guidelines can do for your company. While the idea of a brand manual might at first seem restrictive, mandating what you should and shouldn't do, the reality is that good guidelines tell a story and create a character for your company. They show what you are about, and they build a narrative through which your customers will understand you better.