Go Beyond the Moodboard: How to Use Design Sprints to Create Better Brand Guidelines

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Your brand is now a living, breathing organism — the days of getting by with an inelastic brand book are over.

The truth is, in today's busy, chaotic world consumers help shape, define, and transform brands just as much as the marketers that launch them. This demands that brand style guides evolve past static moodboards into ever-evolving online tool kits that communicate the essence of your brand across all platforms.

This new approach to creating visual design systems considers the brand design as a whole, including its products, channels, and communications throughout the entire product lifecycle. Moodboarding this way more closely resembles a holistic Design Study than a traditional, more conceptual approach to mood board development. It transforms the traditional platform-centric approach into a representational and comprehensive collection of the core components of the brand itself — while still communicating logo presentation, typography, layout, shape, form, feel and color.

We’re not designing pages, we’re designing systems of components. – Stephen Hay

Ideally, you should start creating your future visual design system as early as possible in the product lifecycle with an initial exploratory engagement, a design sprint, that drives immediate conceptual and design value. By considering the design of the entire brand upfront, we reduce the initial scope by creating the system first, which results in a more beautiful and accessible visual language that we are able to nurture and extend over time.

The design artifacts created by this initial engagement come together to create a cohesive feel that communicates what it is really like to interact with a brand or product.

Logo Usage

A logo is, in almost all cases, the most important element of your brand identify, but it often falls victim to the inherently abstract nature of a mood board — mood boards are primarily created to inform the initial stages of the design process. These conceptual visual elements express the overall tone of the brand, but are not representative of the final brand design product.

Why should your most important branding element take shape surrounded by artifacts intended merely to inspire your brand’s actual design?

Our initial design study instead explores a more practical approach that defines how your logo will exist in the real world, surrounded by real typography and photographic elements.   

This initial design sprint can evolve into an established brand design system that communications logo placement, co-branding, construction, and color. This componentized design system is an online, digital guide that allows future actors to understand how the logo behaves in different sizes and colors, on different platforms, mediums, resolutions, browsers, and devices.

Typography

The size, weight, and spacing of your type, combined with your copy’s voice and tone, are what give your brand its personality.

An initial design sprint dives straight into brand exploration, forcing us to immediately think about how typography fits into a brand’s complete visual language.

Typography holds the power to effectively communicate your brand’s values, but only if it’s consistently implemented through well-structured, and articulated, design systems.

Color Palette

If branding is what breathes life into faceless corporations, then design languages and systems are the heart that beats blood through its veins.

Any marketer worth their salt recognizes the importance of color consistency across mediums. Colors, contrast, gradients, and even the shades of color you choose are vital elements in brand recognition.

Design studies and sprints are essential tools to create visual systems that promote color consistency and facilitate the exploration of primary and secondary palettes.

Photography & Image Usage

If a pictures tells us a thousand words, photo libraries and style guides save us thousands of hours.

Often overlooked and under-appreciated, established guidelines for photography usage are essential elements of any living design system. These guidelines future proof your branding efforts, as well as allow us to play with different levels of hierarchy, depth, and contrast. Define style, composition, colors, and treatments to give designers and photographers context and established practices that ensure their output speaks your visual language.

What we create today during an initial design sprint, will guide the photographers you work with tomorrow.

Iconography & Illustration

Don’t let anyone take creative liberties with your iconography and illustration styles, they are critical to establishing a clear and consistent visual language.

Before Twitter established a brand design system, developers and designers used their blue bird icon in a myriad of ways, resulting in brand fragmentation and customer confusion.

Once they established their visual language system, they were able to set clear guidelines on both what their official icon is and how it is presented, creating a consistent brand experience.

Defining a uniform icon and illustration system for your brand creates a much more cohesive and recognizable experience for your customers.

Copywriting

It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Copy lies at the core of your brand communications and is often the first way people experience and interact with your brand. Without a consistent voice for your copy, your customers will feel like they are interacting with two, three, four, or many different people throughout their journey.

Just think about the last time you were frustrated and a company kept giving you mixed messages — a customer service agent promises you one thing, only to transfer you to a colleague who tells you a completely different story, and you end up not getting what you’ve come to expect from the brand.

Inconsistent copywriting often feels the same way.

By including copywriting guidelines in a design study, you keep your brand from developing multiple personalities and create an immediately recognizable voice that your consumers will come to expect and appreciate.

Animation

Animation is often tacked on at the end of a project, but the truth is that it can make all the difference in how our designs and messaging are perceived. Movement is incredibly powerful tool for conveying emotions. Just think about depth of character, plot, and conflict in your favorite Pixar or Disney movie.

Is your brand exciting and intense, bouncy and jovial, or calm and relaxed? These characteristics are conveyed through your designs, but experienced through animation.

Animation guidelines in a design study ensure your animators and motion designers understand just how you want to communicate your brand.

Do Something Different

The last step of a successful brand design sprint to take chances & explore!

Once the design system for your brand feels consistent and cohesive, it’s time to test its limits. Think of outside the box ways that your brand assets could be leveraged online, in the real world, or in a virtual reality combination of both.

What does a co-branded opportunity look like where your CPG brand partnered with Amazon? Explore the idea, does your design system hold up wrapped around a brown cardboard box? Does your brand sell seashells down by the sea shore? What would it look like if you partnered with a local Surf, Skate, & Bike rental shop and put advertisements on the bottom of the long boards they rent out?

You don’t know until you try, and you might just stumble onto a great idea that drives tremendous growth for your business.

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