I have created designs for a fair amount of brands over the years. Before starting work, clients provide a variety of brand elements, including any of the following; logos, fonts, a colour palette, a grid system, and images. Binding all of these together are the brand guidelines. This is a document that helps the designer create artwork that adheres to the brand.
Although brand guidelines are clearly essential and are required reading before starting any project, they can make a designer feel rather dispirited. Most of the time they detail what you cannot do with logos, the colours you must use, the only fonts you are allowed to use, and what you cannot do with images.
So it was with a little resignation that I opened the 109-page tome that was the London 2012 Brand Expression Guidelines … and was pleasantly surprised.
The London 2012 logo unveiling
For the London 2012 logo, I expected a rather dull and uninspiring design, or yet another version on the standard template that seems to have purveyed since 1984 (39 Olympic logos from- 1924 to 2012).
However when it was first unveiled, I was impressed. It was bold, edgy, energetic and completely unexpected. Apparently I was one of the few that actually liked it, as it had many detractors; some commentators saw a broken swastika, or figures in compromising positions (Edgy symbol of digital age or artistic flop - London unveils Olympic logo); and even Iran threatened to boycott the event because they believed it spelt the word Zion (Iran claims London 2012 Olympics logo spells the word ‘Zion’).
To the credit of LOCOG, they bravely went with a radical design.
The brand guidelines
Creating the brand for London 2012, or any Olympic event, may be the most complicated branding exercise on the planet. Making sure that any designer can produce artwork that complies with the brand is an even greater task, so how can you do this?
As I mentioned before, too often they are full of restrictions, page after page. It may seem wise to detail everything a designer cannot do so that they adhere to the brand, but is this really the best way? Can you set clear boundaries but still allow designers the freedom to design?
From the very beginning it is clear that the London 2012 Brand Expression Guidelines were different. Pages that detailed “what is possible” far outnumbered pages that detailed “what not to do”. Where you would usually have limitations, you were encouraged with possibilities within clearly defined boundaries.
It was obvious that they intended to stimulate creativity rather than stifle it, and it certainly inspired me.
Now it’s all well and good to inspire designers with words and examples, but they still need the tools to design with. And often these tools, as with brand guidelines, are set with rigid rules.
One of the biggest surprises of the London 2012 brand was the grid. For those of you who don’t know, a grid is essentially a system of columns and horizontal lines where a design is constructed. It allows the designer to effectively organise various elements of the design on the page.
In this case, the logo is at the heart of the grid, as each side of the logo represents a line on the grid (imagine placing a ruler against each side, and drawing a line to the edges of your paper).
This unique grid allows the designer to make his own creative decisions on where to place the grid, and how to layout the text, shapes and images upon it. It puts the creativity in the hands of the designer whilst maintaining brand consistency.
The logo and colour scheme
Following up this incredibly flexible and energetic grid, is a logo and colour scheme that can be tailored to your needs.
Again here the guidelines provide you with suggestions on colour combinations taken from the colour scheme, but the decision was the designer’s. Need a different coloured logo to work with your combination? There are many options to choose from.
Inspire not limit
It’s clear that the designers responsible for the London 2012 brand have taken considerable lengths to build a brand that is as flexible as possible. It gives designers the space to exercise their creativity but still maintains clear boundaries set by the brand. The brand guidelines focus on the possibilities of what you could do with the brand, instead of what you cannot do, empowering and inspiring designers.
With all these tools combined, you end up with a vibrant but unified vision … and happy designers!
Further reading … not everyone hated the logo!
This post was written by Jonathan Schofield - Senior Designer at award winning web design, digital marketing and branding agency - Obergine.