As a student, I marvelled at the Siemens Corporate Design Manual – all of its 12 files lining the shelf of my professor’s office, one giant construction manual in which every possible element had been considered to ensure rigorous consistency.

10 years later, when designing annual reports, the average guidelines had shrunk somewhat, but they were full of inflexible, one-size-fits-all rules that frequently hampered our efforts in creating a design that would fit our messages. It seemed as if whoever had written the guidelines had focused more on creating a complete set of rules than on how to enable better communications.

Now, as someone writing the rules, I believe we need a different approach.

The discipline of branding has changed profoundly. We have many more touch points to think about, more channels and even dimensions. Clearly, the days when putting a badge on an item of the right colour was enough are long gone – even though many brand case studies are still presented in this way.

We talk about brand personality, but if we are to be serious about it, we need to translate it into behaviours, not rules. In the same way, we present different versions of ourselves on LinkedIn and Facebook, brands should be able to adapt to different audiences and platforms.

That’s why static rulebooks no longer work.

It is interesting to note that when Google launched its new identity in September, the debate seemed to focus more on the interactive elements than the logo itself. Rightly so, in my view – I don’t see the Google logo all too often, but we use Gmail at work and so every time I refresh my screen, the moving dots remind me subtly of the brand.

At GW+Co, when we create new brand identities, we start by defining our story. We then ask ourselves how the various brand elements can enhance this story. For example, we don’t say: ‘it’s elegant, so let’s use an elegant typeface [insert any light sans]’ but we ask ourselves: how could all the elements work together to create elegance? And what other attributes or moods should they be able to express?
The result is a fluid interaction of the brand elements, not just a combination. It’s a visual universe, not a toolbox.

In today’s world, we need brands that can behave in different ways and to enable that, guidelines need to be flexible. We need consistency of spirit over uniformity of style. That shift can be a challenge for some clients, and even agencies. But it enables them to deliver better experiences and to keep evolving the brand, not just police it.

Gilmar Wendt is the Founder and Principal of GW+Co.
Contact him on @gilmarwendt