What Is It?
A Corporate I.D. Manual is a set of rules for the use and implementation of a company’s corporate brand. This can encompass signage, print, stationery, vehicles, uniforms, electronic media, and any other instances where the brand is used. The intent is to preserve the integrity of the brand, which in many cases represents a huge investment by its owner. Imagine the value of the Coca Cola brand and you see that it is essential to protect it from misuse. Consistency is at the core of successful visual branding, so these corporate brand guidelines exist to ensure it isn’t being eroded or diluted by incorrect use.
by Paul Roseblade
Who Uses It?
Corporate I.D or C.I. manuals are used primarily by designers and specifiers whose job it is to apply the generic brand to the specific situation. This is the tricky frontier between the ideal world and the real world. It requires great care and attention as many graphics projects are won or lost at the implementation planning stage. Done well, the brand will emerge from the project strengthened. Done badly, the brand can come out damaged, weakened and compromised.
Who Drafts It?
Some clients have no manual in place when they embark on a rebrand and so rely on their project partners to write it for them. This can often mean that those who are writing the rules are the ones who will have to abide by them. One great advantage of this is that the rules will generally be drafted with practical experience in mind, which should encourage the manual to be workable.
Alternatively, a client may have their CI manual fully bedded down by the time a rebrand project is proposed. In this case the manual acts as a standard against, which makes apples-for-apples comparisons between suppliers somewhat easier. It also means that the use of multiple suppliers is possible with reduced chances of differences becoming apparent.
Do This, Don’t Do That
The manual is usually a mixture of instructions on how to correctly use a brand and examples of what is forbidden. It will contain formulas to enable designers to calculate sizing of the brand, but also the vacant space around a logo that must be preserved as designers know it is as important as the logo itself. It will control the ways the brand can be “hacked up” to fit in strange spaces, and it will preserve the corporate colours and the backgrounds that they appear on.
The manual must find the middle balance of under and over doing it. A manual which “under does” the setting down of rules leaves the brand open to all manner of mayhem when free-style interpretation ensues. Conversely a manual that “over does” it creates rules that are not flexible enough to accommodate the huge variety of situations encountered in the field. Overly prescriptive rule books inevitably are found wanting because they cannot cover every possibility.
Interestingly, the supplier can sometimes become the unofficial gatekeeper of the client’s own corporate brand, upholding the standards set out in the manual with others within the client organisation. With large organisations, multitudes of visual branding projects can be in development at any given time, and often the first and only common point where they are assessed for their compliance to the standard is the supplier’s desk. In this case, the gatekeepers must have a strong and practical C.I. manual with which to enforce the appropriate use of the brand.
What it Must Contain
The manual must, first and foremost, be practical, simple, and easy to implement. This means it must take into account the realities of the real world where the implementation is to occur. In signage, this means the hard realities of buildings, the requirements of council planning rules, the need to be seen in night and day, and the realities of materials in terms of cost, performance, compatibility, transport, manufacture and installation.
It must be flexible enough to adapt to the real world, without allowing harmful departures from the core design. As soon as a manual is judged to be useless in a particular situation it’s users lose confidence in it and tend to go off down their own track, which is of course the last thing the brand’s owners want. It can be astonishing what different people think is acceptable when it comes to “winging it”.
Wherever possible, it should specify the use of approved materials / colours / fonts etc., so that choices by suppliers in these areas are controlled. It is a great way to ensure that quality materials are used, because “near enough is good enough” in the hands of suppliers is a mine field from the brand owner’s viewpoint.
What Can Go Wrong?
A common pitfall of C.I. manuals is that they can be written without accommodating the differing requirements of print, signage, media, uniforms, and so on. Visual rules which work for print and business cards for example do not translate automatically to signage, billboards, skysigns, delivery truck graphics etc. A well crafted C.I. manual aims to provide multiple sets of guidelines for these differing purposes.
The manual must be a controlled document, meaning that its version number and date must appear throughout (on every page). When a new version is published, mechanisms should be in place to ensure that existing users are provided with the new copy, and old versions are removed from circulation.
In general, a well written Corporate Identity Manual will be one of the most important and valuable tools an organisation can create, and in the hands of its branding super-hero’s will be a powerful weapon for the forces of good!