How to make brand guidelines fit for purpose

Too often, brand guidelines become a straitjacket for brands, says Harbour creative partner Grant Parker. Here he explains how thinking about them differently can benefit brands in a complex world

Design agencies are paid handsomely to make pretty things. And rightly so. They have skill, talent and patience: being able to corral multi-headed sub-brands and countless contradictory stakeholder opinions into something as naked as a logo is an impressive feat.

But then, hot on the heels of the logo, come brand guidelines. The niggling bible that’s meant to keep the flock in check.

And that’s when my awe begins to dwindle. When the buffed and oiled brand guidelines in all their skimpy Speedo confidence strut off stage and get to work in the real world, it quickly becomes apparent that they aren’t really as strong as they look.

They begin collapsing, unable to carry the necessarily robust hierarchy of a 96-sheet layout, or contort to the nuanced whisperings of a long-copy press ad. They’re simply unfit for purpose. What might be an eye-catching ‘branding element’ behind a reception desk can quickly become an irritating eyesore on an Insta feed.