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Graphic Standards: Why They Matter.

January 1, 2018

What Are The Rules? written on a chalkboard.jpegIt frequently happens that owners or managers of small- or middle-market businesses balk when they see proposals for a new corporate identity. For those who don’t think about it all that often, corporate identity usually translates to one thing and one thing only: a logo. Generally, this frame of mind considers a new corporate identity project to be an unwanted distraction from getting business done, a nuisance project that must be endured. It’s thought of as an expense, like paper clips, that is unlikely to have any positive effect on profitability. Better to get it over with quickly and cheaply. So, when reading proposals from various corporate identity designers, they usually grumble about what it’s going to cost. And they almost always take specific exception, after having agreed to allocate funds to the logo itself, to spending even more on graphic standards. You just slap the new logo on everything and you’re done, right? Who needs a rule book? Unfortunately, that is just the sort of attitude that contributes to a diminishment of customer experience, the one key performance indicator that should be paramount in any business.

There is a once-hot gathering spot in Southern California that is becoming less popular with every passing year. Floors have been paced, hands have been wrung, white papers and articles have been written, with everybody wondering how to reverse the public’s declining interest in this place. But, if you go there, or even if you research them online, you’ll see they’ve redesigned their identity several times during the past few decades, and every variation is still in use!

The public reacts badly to this. Even if they are not fully aware of it, consumers notice these inconsistencies. Worse, they interpret them as gross inattention to detail. If there are no standards to the graphic identity of the place, what are the standards like in food preparation? Are the drinks mixed properly? How often is the equipment maintained? Can anything be trusted here? Suddenly, everything is uncertain. When one visits this place, one has the uneasy feeling that one is not being well taken care of. That’s not the kind of customer experience that leads to return visits.

Compare that to another Southern California destination, Disneyland. You can spend days there and never lose the feeling of happiness and wellbeing. Nothing can ever go wrong when you’re at Disneyland. Or, at least, that’s the feeling you get. Disney calls it the Magic Kingdom but there’s really no magic to it. Just a lot of hard work and attention to detail. Disneyland would never countenance an inconsistent identity system. They invest in making sure their visual communication is on-brand down to the last detail.

Nothing occurs without context. Even if your new logo is a brilliant award-winner, it won’t do you much good if it’s just pasted on things like a postage stamp. How it appears matters. (As Disney and every other market leader knows.) The logo is, in fact, merely the focal point of your identity system. And your identity system is the way you communicate, visually, with your market. So small matters like what colors make a home for the logo, what fonts are used with the logo, how much white space separates the logo from other graphic elements, all count for a lot. Everything leads up to the logo. That’s why it’s called an identity system.

If your system is disorganized, your business will be seen as disorganized. If your system is sharp, consistent and meaningful to the market, that’s how your business will be perceived.

To get the right kind of consistency, standards must be set and codified into a document of some kind. There are at least three good reasons for this.

1 – Even if you only have one designer applying the system to your visual communication, his or her design decisions may vary day-to-day, either as their tastes change, they’re influenced by other design systems or one day they just have some sort of weird creative whim. Even a dedicated designer can stray into territory that will weaken your brand. Written graphic standards will prevent that from happening.

2 – Your designer may be replaced at some point. Written graphic standards will see that the new designer’s desire to impress with originality and creativity remains harnessed to the business’s branding needs.

3 – We live in a world where information is shared with impunity. In the digital age, there’s no telling who will end up applying your logo, to what, or for what purpose. Published graphic standards at least give these non-authorized content creators some guidance on how to do a good job of it.

Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Our ability to process visual data is so perfected that we do it in the background. We make decisions about a business without even thinking about it. It’s an unconscious action, like breathing. It is up to management to design identity systems that will send the right signals to the right market so that they’ll come away with the right perceptions of the business. And graphic standards ensure the system is working to full effect no matter who is implementing it on a daily basis.

One more thing. Multiple logos of varying ages, used concurrently, is a prime indicator of a troubled brand strategy. If your business is using more than one logo, at least make a start towards a coherent brand strategy by getting rid of the old ones.

Best Branding Reads – Week of January 1, 2018

American Apparel’s Rebrand, Led by Female Execs, Aims to Be Sexy Without the Sexism
If American Apparel can keep their manufacturing stateside, I’d say they’ve pulled off a pretty successful rebrand.

When Founders Fail Their Brands
A good branding article to read as we head into the NFL playoffs.

Brand Activism: 5 Questions With Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario
Patagonia is the original brand activist and has learned a thing or two about how best to go about it.

25 Must Read Articles For Stronger Brands
A compilation of greatest hits from Branding Strategy Insider. Read them all this weekend and become a branding guru by Monday.

New Logo and Identity for Fakultet for kunst, musikk og design
At first blush, this identity system seemed idiotic. But the more I got into it, the more it made sense. The video convinced me. Now I’m a huge fan.

Tokyo 2020 Games Mascots
Don’t you wish you were a Japanese school kid and you could vote for one of these?

Why B2B brands must stop giving buyers what they want
Per the article, “… companies have an insatiable appetite for competitive differentiation.”

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