Andrew Duhig

Working to brand guidelines

February 2019

Working with large clients you will at some point be supplied with a brand guidelines document. Having worked with and without these on various projects I wanted to think a bit more about the benefits and negatives.

You get a new client and someone sends you a PDF or link in an email saying "here are the guidelines, you need to make sure you follow them". They come in many different flavours but most include; typography, colours, logo usage, tone of voice, images and icons. Some will go into great detail and some are very brief.

I always make an effort to read the guidelines and try to understand the overall message. I find you can get a good feeling for how much time has been spent on creating the brand from these documents. That then gives you an idea of how strict the branding is. From there you can then make the decision about where you have to follow the rules and where you might break them.

I often find once you have been through the guidelines it is worth looking at some of the other business collateral; websites, tools, products, brochures etc. To see if these all follow the guidelines or if things seem to have moved on.


Guidelines can give you a great base to start from and a clear path for setting up UI tool kits. Following this process of copying the guidelines into your own document helps you understand the details, font sizes, leading, alignment and spacing. I think unconsciously following this process you are visually resetting yourself to start the project.

When you present a design and you are told the font is too big or the content is too tight, you have a reference point to refer back to, either to check what you have done is correct or to argue your case. You can then have a discussion with the client or your team around following the guidelines or starting to deviate.

I would suggest asking about guidelines a few times, if you are staring a project with a large client and you haven't been provided any. I have quite often found you need to get in touch with the right person in the business to get a copy of them. Most customers won't know where to find them!


The down side of strict guidelines are you can sometimes feel very restrained during the creative process. When you feel they have restricted all the creative ideas you might want to try. This is especially the case if you don't actually like the design in the guidelines, or you think it is out of date. I often find in this case it's best to follow the guidelines for the bulk of the design process but then give yourself some time to try things out later on. Getting feedback from the client on these deviations to make sure they like the direction you might be going. Sometime this can even spur on a client to rethink the guidelines.

The other thing that can sometimes feel like a downside of working to guidelines is presenting to the client. You might not feel you are going to have that wow moment, the big reveal, as what you are presenting is expected. In my experience the wow moment is very overrated and doing more small reveals to the client at more regular intervals during a project is much less stressful and has a much better outcome. Using tools such as Invision to share the project with the client as you design it can be really useful. Keeping them involved in the process all the way through.


Guidelines can be a real positive to get started on a project, you don't have a blank slate to start from but that means you can get stuck into the project faster. Most of the basic decisions have all been made for you. I have very rarely been told off for breaking the rules as generally speaking most guidelines are common sense.

Make sure you read through and understand the guidelines and challenge things you might not agree with. You never know you might get the job to update the guidelines! Thanks for reading.

Back home