Nike. Apple. Coca-Cola. I don't know about you, but my mind's eye is assaulted with colours, logos, and a multitude of other images at the very mention of these well-known brands. Sure, they're all very successful companies that each have a litany of products that bare Nike's 'swoosh', Apple's autological piece of fruit, or Coke's signature lettering, but one thing all of these uber-well-known brands have in common is that their brand is represented consistently in all things they do.
To some, it may not be a big deal to see the Coca Cola logo in a shade of red that's slightly darker than the norm, or the Nike Swoosh is horizontally compressed so that it fits some ad space. Quite honestly, they probably wouldn't even notice, but the reality is, every time the brand's visual identity marks are incorrectly used, the brand suffers. Consistent representation of a brand across all media gives the consumer a touchstone or base of what to expect to see from that brand.
In terms of brand consistency, as a graphic designer, I tend to frame things based on how the brand's visual marks and styles are being represented, but really there are so many more aspects to it that contribute to how people picture a brand in their mind's eye. Things like tone of voice, choice of supporting photography, and even third- party organizations who the company chooses to align with can drastically change the way people see the brand.
OK, with that mentioned, let's get back to the visuals. How does a company ensure that their brand and vision is represented in a consistent manner? For mom & pop shops or even small companies, there is often a single individual responsible for creating and maintaining the company's visual identity. They're the only one creating ads or packaging or graphics for the web, so they control the reins and are able to adhere to the style that they've setup without having to refer to documentation. When you get into larger organizations where its harder to manage who's creating what, they rely on a simple tool with easy to follow examples and instructions, detailing how to and how not to use the company logo and other identity marks. This document is often referred to as a Style Guide or Brand Guidelines.
The anatomy of a Brand Guide
The logo is your brand's 'workhorse'. Sometimes, this is the only element of your brand that you're able to communicate with. Wouldn't it be reassuring if you knew that it was always used the way you intended it to?
This part of the brand guide deals specifically with the logo and how it's used on media and in concert with other elements. Things like placement on printed media & online, minimum 'gutter' (distance between it and other objects) and it's proper physical representations. For instance, ensuring that the logo isn't stretched or compressed, the fonts or colours aren't changed, or that it is used in it's entirety and not edited.
In terms of game design, consistency in how the logo is treated can take many forms, a couple of examples are logo placement on the game box or it's size and placement in the rulebook. Establishing guidelines for items like this will help you maintain a consistent look and feel across all of your games.
Consider this excerpt from the City of New York's brand guide outlining proper (and improper) uses of their iconic logo.
If you know me, or have read any of my other posts, you'll know that I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to type. Some people feel that the fonts you use can speak as loudly for your brand as your logo does. When done right, the fonts you've chosen to represent your organization can elevate your overall brand. Like any good design, they should be 99% invisible. That is to say, they should seem so well with the other elements of your brand that they themselves aren't noticed, but they contribute to your unique look and visual experience.
In the brand guide, this section is your opportunity to specify what your official fonts are and how they should be used. You can detail things like for marketing ad titles, use Shackleton Condensed (a beautiful font by Mattox Shuler of Fort Foundry, btw) or that all paragraph text must have a leading (spacing between lines) of at least 150%, etc. While you may use thematic fonts when it comes to selecting in-game fonts, there is certainly opportunity to standardize the fonts you use in content that appears across all your games like the legal text on the back of the box and in the rulebook as an example.
Remember that 'not quite right' Coke red we talked about earlier? Well, nothing drives me up the wall more than when colours are off and it's blatantly obvious. You may be thinking that only the designer or someone else close to the brand will ever notice something like that, but if you've done your job right, and have imprinted your brand onto the minds of the public, then they too will sense that something's amiss. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but something will appear not quite right. Imagine an avid gamer with dozens of games in their collection. Now imagine that they have more than one of your games, and that they like to store a publisher's games together and for some reason each of the games are displaying your logo in all it's glory, but each one of them is a slightly different hue. Turns out, you just haven't gotten around to writing your brand guide, and as a result, there's no place that says that the red in your logo is Pantone 185C, or that your blue is 95C, 74M, 10Y, and 0K (Values for the CMYK colour space).
It's as simple as listing a chart in your brand guide with all of the different colour values for your chosen hues. When I'm creating one, I make sure I list values for Pantone (coated and uncoated), CMYK (for 4 colour print jobs), and finally RGB and Hex values for on-screen applications. Now, of course, you can take this as far as you want by specifying how and when to use certain colours depending on the application and setting. Ultimately, it's your call when it comes to creating these guides.
They say that a picture is worth 1000 words, just imagine those words crossing the minds of your client base when they see one of your ads that uses supporting photography. Whether you commission a photo shoot or purchase a royalty-free stock image from your favourite collection, the tone and composition of the images should be singing the same tune as everything else in your brand arsenal.
When creating the photography guides for the brand book, ask yourself what feelings you want consumers to associate with your brand. From there, you can set the rules for using photography with the brand. These 'rules' can be as simple as adjectives that describe the overall feel of the photos, or you can drill down even further by addressing content, ethnic representation, product placement and many many other things. For instance, the Adidas brand guide lists "Warmth, Spirit of Sport, and Athlete-Centered" as visual characteristics of their brand, makes total sense right? Now take those characteristics and apply them to another brand, say NASA; doesn't quite fit, does it? This is why it's so important that all parts of your brand speak to the same goal, the old adage rings true here. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.
When it comes to game publishers, the photos you use can tell a story as to what types of games you make, what age they're targeted to, and if they're a fun, party-style game, or a game for the more serious strategist. Choose wisely.
Spread the word.
Make it accessible.
The more people I work with in the industry, the more I'm realizing that it is a very decentralized work environment. Teammates may reside in the same city, but they may just as easily be separated by a few states or provinces, or even continents! For this very reason, it's uber important to make sure everyone on the team is up to date on the brand. For consistent brand execution across all channels to be successful, it needs to be easily accessible and simple to implement.
Consider sharing a folder on your preferred cloud platform with all the necessary tools like the brand guidelines document, logos in all the approved formats, fonts, document templates...everything. Keep the conversation going by having regular info sessions, or roundtable discussions on how the brand was successfully (or unsuccessfully) implemented, this is a great way to share successes and learn from mistakes while keeping everyone current on the brand.
Templates are fantastic for consistency. By providing templates for documents, social posts and other communication media, you can help ensure that Sally's facebook post falls inline with Cody's the week after.
Depending on the size of your organization, you may (or may not) have somebody responsible for marketing or creative services. Often, these individuals are the among the most familiar with the brand. Consider the benefit of funnelling print jobs and other outward-facing items through them for at the very least, a review to ensure that the brand is being respected. They'll likely catch subtle errors like an improper font weight or slightly off hue in the logo which may be imperceptible to others.
Wrapping it up.
One thing I find about tabletop games is that the only real consistency is that they use different artists and graphic designers all the time. They mix and match the creative team to suit the thematic tone of the game, and this makes total sense. Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls of consistently working with different people is that reigning in brand consistency becomes more and more difficult. With an established, rock solid set of tools like a brand guidelines document, logos for all applications, fonts, and document templates, this difficult task becomes easier. Having a 'Brand Bible' to refer to will take the guesswork out of it and enable your entire team to express your brand in a professional, consistent manner across your products, ads, and all other channels. When that avid gamer gathers all of your games together on their shelf, you can be confident that your brand is being represented as you intended.
Looking for inspiration to create your own brand guide? Freelancer.com has put together a great list of 100 brand guides from some industry leaders. Take a look.