When I started at NL in 2004, the companies we worked with always had extensive brand-standards documents. Beautiful treatises that prescribed graphics, fonts, and color in stark detail. Each pixel and serif was considered and curated so that any deliverable created would represent the company in a uniform, approved way. Which was just solid marketing practice. If you allow styles to deviate and give departments agency to change things to their preferences, you risk the brand identity becoming diluted and indistinguishable in the marketplace.
Then an interesting thing began to happen. Many clients weren’t prioritizing their brand standards as much in their custom e-learning projects. We were designing interfaces that captured the spirit of the brand but disregarded many of the specific constraints. Our designers were able to start with blank canvases more and more. We thrive on constraints of course, but breaking free of the completely locked down limitations that brand standards often prescribe opened up new worlds of possibility. Now designers could complement the tone of the content. They could use a palette that enhanced the presentation, and layouts that reflected the audience’s evolving comfort with technology and rising expectations for fidelity. They were free to use their imaginations even more and follow a broader range of inspiration.
Why did this happen? It’s not like brand identity is less important in a culture where a good first impression is critical. But we think there are cases in which defining your own look and feel can make your identity stronger. Here are a few things to ask when deciding how to handle brand standards.
DO THESE BRAND STANDARDS APPLY?
The truth is, a lot of brand standards won’t cover the kinds of things you are planning to build. They may be created with print marketing in mind, or just apply to external or customer-facing initiatives. If they don’t specify the organization’s requirements for UI/UX or games or online interactivity, then you might not have to handcuff your designers in an attempt to strictly adhere to them.
ARE WE ALLOWED TO DEVIATE?
Yes, in some cases you might find there is no leeway to deviate from the standards. They are carefully refined over time and might be too important to the many departments involved. Marketing departments have a lot invested in representing the company in a certain way. If you’re unsure where the key stakeholders stand, it’s a good idea to do a little asking around to see what flexibility you have for your project to avoid development snares down the line.
WILL DEVIATING FROM THE STANDARDS BENEFIT MY TRAINING?
People like the opportunity to create something new and different. We always learn from our past efforts, both good lessons and things we’d like to improve. So each training project is an appealing chance to apply those lessons. Similarly, people get inspired by things every day, either casually or more profoundly, from games, movies, books, or art, so we are naturally eager to work on something that are informed by these exciting inspirations. It’s hard to resist that kind of creative impulse--and you shouldn’t have to, really. In our opinion, many of the coolest, most effective projects are created from that kind of momentum.
WILL CUSTOM BRANDING BENEFIT MY TRAINING?
We’ve been doing this more often to great effect. Clients invest a lot of resources into developing a powerful training initiative, collaborating with us to target business goals that can truly change behavior in a lasting, meaningful way. So why not go whole hog and give it some excellent new branding all its own? A unique logo, colors that express the tone of the content’s message, and some textures or fresh details can all help to announce a different kind of experience. These choices can share some of the same elements as the organization’s branding, complement them in spirit, or represent a bold departure. It can be worth it--surprising learners by subverting their expectations of training can go a long way to them taking the content to heart, especially if you are going to continue the training initiative with updates and new additions.
As your team is taking stock of the constraints that will guide development, don’t miss out on the chance to let your project reach its full potential. Branding is one area where your team can score an easy win for the learner.