Design is the face of a brand. It showcases its personality and highlights the values the brand stands for—sometimes with just a few digital brushstrokes. But as the responsibility for branding is shared across organizations, design is becoming more democratized. Marketers, developers, and sales teams alike are all dabbling with it in their own projects.
So how do you make sure everyone sticks to your original vision for the brand identity? And how do you go about sharing that vision with each team, individual, and department? The short answer is, you design a brand system.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what a brand system is and why you need one, so you’ll know what to look for in a solid brand system.
At its core, a brand system is a shared space that hosts all the major aspects of a brand. This includes design elements like brand colors, typography, logotypes, logomarks, graphics, and icons—and also guidelines on how to apply them in various projects.
A brand system exists to ensure that everyone in your organization has access to your design guidelines.
Being a shared space, a brand system exists to ensure that everyone in your organization has access to your design guidelines, so they can be used properly in all marketing campaigns, web and app development, and all other customer touchpoints.
While you, as a designer, are largely responsible for the visual identity of a brand, you can’t build a brand identity on your own. It’s influenced by the work other teams and individuals do as well. And unfortunately, the hours you spend curating moodboards, selecting typography, adjusting color palettes, and designing icons and logos won’t matter, if those people veer away from the branding when they work on their own projects.
Having a clear brand system in place helps teams and employees stay true to the visual identity, even when they’re working on separate projects or in remote locations. And this increases the likelihood that the branding work you do actually matters.
“A brand should be lived by everyone in a company, not just a few. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a solid brand system in place that is accessible and fun to use for all the people in your organization. And make sure it’s a living system that adapts to the needs, not just a one-off.” — Roger Dudler, CEO at Frontify
But, of course, the trick is knowing exactly what to look for in a good brand system. Here are 4 must-haves for every serious designer:
First and foremost, it’s vital that every brand system include a brand style guide to inform design work. Everything from color palettes and typography selections (including bold and italic versions) to guidelines for various assets like logos and icons should be included. And for the sake of simplicity, security, and ease of access for everyone in your organization, it’s ideal to host the style guide in a cloud platform like Frontify.
Doing so makes it easier for new designers to get up to speed, and other teams (like marketing) to create simple ad creative without accidentally drifting away from your brand guidelines. At the same time, it gives you back your time by eliminating the need to constantly send out style guide PDFs anytime someone has a question.
If you want to give Frontify’s Style Guide a go, you can try it out for free by signing up here.
Brand assets need to be used in their current form to look professional. Any stretching, squeezing, or inverting can quickly make icons and logos look awkward and amateurish. But it’s hard to keep other teams from altering brand assets if you don’t have a single, locked version available to everyone, on-demand.
Fortunately, great brand systems like Frontify do have an answer to this. By providing cloud space where brand assets can be stored and shared across your organization, they make it possible for you to give everyone access to locked versions of logos and icons. You can even save these assets in PNG formats, so other teams can easily resize them without altering the resolution or ratio of the asset.
Oftentimes, marketing teams will have similar design requests. This might be because a small change was made to a campaign prior to publishing or because the team wants to create similar ad creative for a new campaign.
Regardless of the reason, handing off the repetitive design work to the team requesting it can be a tempting thought. And luckily, with the right brand system, it’s actually possible to do so without sacrificing the quality of the design or risking your branding. How? By enabling any and all teams to access on-brand design templates at all times.
In fact, with the right brand system, you can save any completed project as a template by locking in specific elements (like the placement and size of a logo). The rest of the elements (like the messaging and images) can be left open for marketers to adjust and swap out as needed. This means your marketing team can repurpose an old summer campaign as this year’s holiday campaign, and you don’t have to do a thing.
While having a brand system to host your style guide and create templates for your marketing team is great, it’s definitely no replacement for the design tools you already use. However, good brand systems actually integrate easily with a variety of design tools.
For example, Frontify integrates with several core design tools like Figma, Sketch, and InDesign, which makes it easy for designers who use the brand system to keep everything organized. All of your design work can be pushed seamlessly into Frontify and shared across your organization and none of the formatting or elements are lost in the transfer.
Even if you’re already 100% committed to the idea of adopting a brand system to host your style guide and design work, you still need stakeholder support to do so. And since discussions about new technology nearly always come with concerns about cost, development time, and overall ROI, bringing a brand system to the table can be daunting.
We do have a suggestion to help you pitch the idea successfully, though:
Find a cloud-hosted brand management platform designed to support teams across your organization. Not only will it have virtually no implementation time, but many are also reasonably priced as a tool for entire organizations. And being built for every team and department to use them simultaneously, these brand systems also successfully tear down internal silos by facilitating knowledge sharing and cross-functional collaboration. In essence, they’re a solid investment in the future of your brand (and more specifically, an investment in you and the success of your day to day work).