March 24th, 2016

Brand guides, style sheets, brand book – whatever you call it, your company probably has one (or it should). It’s the reference point for your entire brand vision. At it’s simplest, it covers logo placement, color use, font size, and style. The goal of the brand guide is to support a company’s mission statement and make sure their audience is consistently getting the right message from the visuals the company produces. Without brand guidelines, you risk stretched logos, strange color choices, comic sans, and the ultimate derailment of your overall mission statement.

Historically, brand guides set forth stringent requirements to cover printed materials, but these days, you need a brand guide for your digital presence too. Your audience should not notice a distinct difference in style between your hard copy and online presence. However, a digital brand guide needs to be more flexible than print given the vast, constantly changing, digital landscape. Here’s why:

Different mediums, different standards.

Think of your print guide as a rule book, but digital brand guide as just that – a guide. Your brand can bridge the gap across print and digital media without being identical. Often, you’ll be limited by programs, social media configurations, or apps so you may not be able to keep your logo a specific size. For instance, certain social channels like Facebook and Twitter limit you to a 90x90 box, so you’ll need to forgo your tagline if it is illegible at that size.

A good digital brand guide allows your brand to be fluid and flexible without morphing into something entirely different from your overall brand. If you want to be consistent, then you need to define the rules, and then use your best judgment when a circumstance requires you to bend the rules.

For example:
Keep the font and logo, but allow colors to change, like Warby Parker did taking their store front sign to Twitter. They kept their wordmark, but adopted the iconic Twitter blue.

Warby Parker Store Front Sign
Warby Parker's Twitter Logo


Create variations of your logo to accommodate square profile pictures on social media; even if your logo is more horizontal. The New York Times does an excellent job making their branding fluid:

Their wordmark, appears on all of their print material and any digital piece that can accommodate their horizontal logo.

When it came to Twitter, they kept the black and white treatment and their well known typeface, shortening their logo to the “T”:

Bend, Don’t Break

Your brand needs to be robust and strong enough to live in different environments, but there is a sweet spot between not doing enough to adapt and overdoing it.

A large company, like Bloomberg, has to take smaller steps. BNA is headed in the right direction, but BP could use an update for their social media presence.

Some companies create entirely new brand guidelines for their online presence or make drastic changes that a customer has trouble following. But remember - a brand needs to be (nearly) universally recognizable before it can confidently separate the logo from the word mark. It worked for Nike, but only after a lot of exposure and careful brand transition. On the other hand, some companies are afraid to advertise online, engage in social media, or try content marketing because their brand doesn’t “fit.”

Let us leave you with this:

The digital marketplace is a big, vast universe. It is certainly overwhelming, especially if you are trying to create or update your brand for a digital debut or revamp. But - there’s a sweet spot between the Emperor’s New Clothes and putting your head in the sand like an ostrich. We recommend reaching out to a trusted partner or long time client whose aesthetic you trust to ask for their impression on your brand changes - confirm it’s still sending the right message. Even better, if you can vet your plans with end-users, take the time to do that and iterate as necessary.