This is the first in a series of posts on an ongoing topic of interest for me – 'guidance systems'.
Be it for brands, products or services we all know the traditional PDF 'brand guide' is no longer fit for purpose. So the big question is what is? And how do we go about finding this out?
Over the years I have had the pleasure of both making brand guides and using them. Over this time I have never really felt happy with the way these have been shared and created, both by me and with me. I believe there is lots to discuss to make things better for both makers and users alike.
Whenever we embark upon a new design challenge we have to consider the 'brand' space we are are designing within. Sometimes as the creator with the freedom to make the rules, and other times as a user working within the rules created by others. Either way, the team will have to interpret guidance and pass on this interpretation to their peers and finally to the end users experiencing what they make.
Below are 4 main areas where I have seen issues with or (on the flip side) opportunities for creating good brand guidance.
1. Fit for purpose
Many times guidelines start their days being not fit for purpose. Such as being far too focused on one channel (such as print when a large part of the offer is digital), or not being created as a system but as single pieces that simply don't scale or connect. Sometimes its just that so little has been considered (such as just logo, font and colours) that teams are forced to carry the extra load of building a brand experience on the fly.
2. More than the 'Design police'
Other times guidance is used as a policing tool. A weapon to reject work that is 'off brand' and keep teams consistent and with a central point of view. However this approach can become a huge problem if the guide itself does not serve its users well. Say if it lacks the right content, is out of date, doesn't iterate or take on findings from the teams that use it. This can force teams to just ignore the guidance altogether and go 'off piste', driving a divide between those who use the guide and those enforcing it. Often to the detriment of the end user and the quality of the product or service.
3. On the right channel
In other instances the channel or medium of the guidance can be the blocker. A fixed, closed medium like a PDF can prevent change taking place. For digital where iterative development is the norm it is especially pertinent that the reference materials can keep pace with the real thing!
4. Designed for its users
Finally guidance can be not well designed for all its users. Digital products are built by multi-disciplinary teams and guidance needs to speak to all its users in the right way. This means it can't just provide high-minded, waffly rhetoric on one end of the spectrum or only exacting code snippets on the other. It needs to be something that speaks to developers, designers, writers, researchers and management teams to help them do their jobs.
To me all good service experiences start with providing the right tools (and attitude) to guide the teams making them. What I am most interested in is how we can make guidance that better serves these opportunities, and as a result the services they provide to their users, especially for digital services.
Watch this space for the next instalment on this theme!