A Brief Introduction
A proper logo design needs a proper document that defines its uses and misuses. The identity standards manual is this document. It can be as simple as one page, or it can be a one-hundred-page manual. Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more common for this manual to also live online. When the manual is online, it makes it easy for everyone to access it when they need to, and they can also download high-quality versions of the artwork, which can ensure a more consistent brand usage throughout the world. If you’re not going to have the manual online, then consider at least hosting the logo files for download or including a disc with the manual.
This post is broken up into two parts and goes over what needs to be included (or not included) in the manual. Part two will give an overview and outline of a fully completed manual.
Scope of the Identity Standards Manual
The identity standards manual can have a narrow or wide scope; it again depends on your original agreement with the client. Sometimes it will be only one sheet and simply show the logo as it is to be used. Sometimes it will be a multipage document that may be a design project unto itself. Other times you may not even offer an identity standards manual as part of the design (in this case, it’s usually due to major budget constraints). As previously mentioned, at the very least, the standards manual should include the acceptable forms of the logo, some examples of unacceptable forms, and a definition of the colors to use and the colors to avoid.
Of course, the more detail you can give, the better. All budgets will certainly not allow for this, and it can be hard to convince decision makers to put the resources behind such a comprehensive document. But there are several reasons why a standards manual is worth the investment:
1. It keeps things consistent. One of the most important parts of having a strong identity in this world full of strong identities is being consistent. Using the logo the same way over and over again—every time. The standards manual supports this habit and gives the knowledge of how to do so to anyone who needs to communicate visually with the brand.
2. It can show investors, those with interest in the organization, and the members of the organization itself that brand identity and consistency are a priority and are not to be haphazardly applied and that a commitment has been made to building value through clear and effective visual communications.
3. It can help to avoid all sorts of potential headaches for the leaders of the organization, namely, consumer confusion and lack of brand confidence. Inconstancies will arise without a proper standards manual, colors will be off and the logo will be misused, stretched, or broken apart.
4. Without a standards manual, the resources that went into a successful logo design become essentially lost because third parties utilizing the new mark don’t understand how to use it properly. And how should they? Without a manual clearly stating what to do and what not to do, there are simply too many variables that can’t be controlled. The standards manual puts control back in the hands of the brand management team, long after the original logo designer is out of the picture.
Defining the Rules
What is design but a set of rules that defines the specifics of a form? In the identity standards manual, you will be clearly defining all the rules that are to apply to the new logo design. Remember, rules include not only what not to do, but also what to do. Be sure to include clear guidelines that outline both.
Quite often, the individual using the logo will be a non-designer, someone unfamiliar with the industry and its best practices. Because of this, it is important to outline even commonsense things not to do with the logo, like using it in the wrong color. For the same reason, it is best to use clear, straightforward language throughout the manual, avoiding jargon.
Some logos lend themselves to very strict restrictions. Other logos can be used a bit more liberally. It’s important to know what type of logo you have developed and then clearly define usage rules and exceptions in this step.
Usually, the identity standards manual will take a “blueprint” approach by placing guides and grids over top of the logo with precise measurements and ratios. This can be very helpful for users of the logo to understand how much work went into precisely placing each mark and stroke, giving them respect for its integrity and helping them identify when their logo is being used improperly. This section usually also defines the negative space around the logo and between the elements.
Sometimes this document can also be used as a way to spread corporate culture throughout an organization. The manuals can be handed to new employees to help get them onboard with what the organization stands for. When this is the case, the manual will often be longer and include other items as well: a letter from the founder or CEO, a company history, relevant numbers about the industry and their positioning, a mission statement, or contact information.
The best way to start when creating the standards manual is by asking yourself crucial questions about the logo you have created.
Questions to Consider
Questions to Start
• What will it look like on white, black, or other colors?
• What happens when it’s used with other logos?
• What are the CMYK values?
• What are the RGB values?
• Does it use spot colors?
• Can the mark be separated from the type? If so, how and when?
• Are there multiple versions of the logo?
• What shouldn’t the logo do?
What Must Be Included
• A summary of the brand identity and explanation of the document.
• The logo shown in all its acceptable forms.
• The logo shown in an array of some of its many unacceptable forms.
• Definitions of space around the logo.
• Color definitions.
• Legal requirements: TM, , etc.
What Can Be Included
• Complementary typographic styles.
• Coordinated brand color palettes.
• Photographic styles.
• Examples of the logo in various contexts: websites, brochures, letterhead, etc.
• Grammar and copy styles.
• Tagline and its relationship to the logo.
Other Elements to Define
Logos are the little jewels of visual communications; however, they often extend beyond the bounds of their own form, as a larger identity system will be created to support the logo. The logo itself and all these other elements need to be considered when creating the identity standards manual. Often, when creating an identity standards manual, you will be required to define other visual elements related to the brand that are not the logo itself. Color palettes, photographic styles, typography, page layouts, and grids are just some of the things to consider when crafting your identity standards manual. For more information on visual elements and branding, check out our post Logos vs. Branding.
The color palette of a brand identity does not necessarily have to be exclusive of, or even include, the colors found within the logo itself. If you don’t include the colors of the logo, you’ll want to have good reason, but it’s not a requirement. That said, most identity standards that define a wider color palette will at least be based on the colors in the logo itself: colors that complement, contrast, highlight, or shade, whatever their purpose. It can go a long way in a strong visual identity to define colors to be used in all visual communications. Include whites, blacks, and grays as colors too.
Many organizations will not have a budget for photography, especially custom photography. Today’s range of stock photography available is vast and affordable, so even if you can’t art direct a photo shoot, you still may be able to set some general guidelines for future photographic use. For example, maybe your client has identified the need to communicate a “soft” feeling, then perhaps it would be beneficial to use photos with shallow depth of field and some out of focus elements, as these tend to have a more subtle and soft feel. When you’re compiling the standards manual be sure to gather some examples of the photos to be used. It’s much easier to look at a group of photos and understand the photographic style visually then it is to describe the style in words alone. Be sure to use words as well of course.
It is very common for a family or two of typefaces to be defined as the signature typographic style for a modern brand. In fact, it is a growing trend for organizations to have custom-designed typefaces created specifically for their brand for which they have exclusive rights. If you have the resources to do so, that is fantastic. Most likely, though, you will be choosing from commercially available typefaces that have already been created. Again, like the color palette, you’ll want to choose a type family or families that harmoniously interact with the logo form you have created as well as continue to communicate the brand’s core message. You may define a heading style as well as a body typeface; they may be the same thing. Or perhaps you’ll define a serif style and a complementing sans-serif face. When including these typefaces in the standards manual, you’ll want to show an example of the typeface in a mockup so one can see it in context. You’ll also want to include a visual representation of the entire alphabet. Don’t forget to include all weights and variations that are acceptable.
Page Layouts and Grids
Showing some mocked-up page layouts—perhaps it’s a sample ad, a webpage, a magazine layout, or a brochure sample—can go a long way to making sure that the identity you’ve crafted ends up being used properly down the road when you might not be the designer creating their new visual documents. You can even go so far as to create a grid system that future designers can employ when creating new pages. If you’re defining a grid system, you’ll want to show how to mathematically construct a grid based on any given page size. In order to learn more about grids and page layout standards, you should certainly read Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Muller-Brockmann.
If you’ve created a logo for a consumer manufacturing company, you may want to include a layout for packaging. Packaging can be tricky, because there is an infinite amount of box shapes that the product could take. Typically, this is not part of the logo design project and is a separate project onto itself; however, if you’ve been hired to do both, including the packaging standards in the standards manual can be very helpful for other designers, especially if your client’s product gets licensed to many other companies. In this case, you will typically also include a disc with digital assets and pieces of artwork for the other designers to use and adapt as they create the specific packaging layouts. When you are creating this section, you have to be very careful to not require graphic elements that are not possible to include in every context. It can be quite tricky.
Overview of a Completed Manual
Now that you know what needs to be included (or not included) in the manual, it’s time to see an outline of a fully completed identity standards manual. Having an overview and examples to reference from a fully completed manual helps to bring it all together so you can visualize how to create your own identity standards manual. To see more, check out part two!