Should Color be part of a Brand’s Guidelines?

Jared Stanley
4 min readNov 14, 2023
A collection of brands breaking their own Brand Guidelines.

Brand recognition and positioning take a long time to establish and are extremely valuable to an organization.
Fonts, Colors, Logo size and placement, iconography, imagery, tone & voice, design system etc all affect a brand’s recognition and historically have been fiercely protected (by the creative team).

3 corporate logos, showing progression over time.

History

For a long time logos were used only in print, established by a very strict CMYK printing process. Brand Guidelines were crucial to ensuring printers maintained consistency and quality. Well-run orgs would have very explicit instructions for their logo, often with an exception of a 1-color solution for black & white usage (think Ink Stamps, Newsprint, Faxes, T-Shirts etc).

MTV: An Anomaly
My first job out of college was at MTV in Times Square. All I’d learned about how to strictly manage a company’s brand was thrown out the window here — MTV’s brand was ‘There is no brand’. Every few months you’d see a different treatment of their logo — the more different the better as far as they were concerned.

MTV’s logo style was ‘what hasn’t been done yet?’

Google Doodles
Another example of a brand breaking their own rules is Google and their varying versions of their logo used in their Google Doodles:

“The Best Google Doodles of 2017"

In an otherwise-rigid corporate setting, Google decided to create a sandbox where they could disregard their own brand rules and introduce personality and depth to their brand in new ways. These were only present on their ubiquitous search page and not used elsewhere.

Pride Month
I was reminded of these diversions from the norm this summer when I saw all the companies’ social media logos change to rainbow. Very strict Logo Usage Guidelines seemed to be disregarded for Pride Month or other causes important to the orgs.

Companies disregard their Brand Guidelines during Pride Month and other times.

I noted the contrast between the rigidity of the guidelines for large orgs vs. the difference here.

A company’s rigid usage guidelines (left) are excepted during Pride Month (right) & other mission-driven initiatives.

I find it surprising how this is never questioned or discussed when so much attention is otherwise spent by creative orgs on this kind of thing. Not good or bad — just interesting.

Also surprising how little it matters! Nobody questions what site they’re on if Facebook’s logo is colored differently.

LinkedIn’s logo can be 1-color or 2-color — unless it’s Pride! Or Black History Month!

The Modern Brand

The modern brand has transcended print-only usage. “Digital” usage including various screen types is the norm. Print is almost an afterthought to Web and Software, Video Games, VR, etc.
Not only static logos, but animation on commercials, social media reels, video games, 3D VR worlds, etc are all part of a modern brand. A well-run org today will have animation guidelines in addition to their brand & color specs etc.

Screen capture from Google’s Material Design: Motion section.

As we move into an AI world we’ll have even more use-cases for brands to exist; the ability to predict the environment will become much more difficult than the printing-press era from long ago. A dynamic brand that is rigid enough to retain brand recognition while flexible enough it can adapt to the medium is increasingly important.

Homogenization
A counter-point to this growing need for adaptability, or perhaps a result of this, is the trend of logos becoming simplified and therefore more similar. Shape becomes less important which would then cause a brand’s color to carry more weight.

Homogenization of logos — “drowning in a sea of sameness.”

Is Color Important to a brand?

Yes. Color is important. Of course it is!
Color should retain its position in a brands style guide — but perhaps there’s an argument that color is not as important as shape, or positioning, or other parts of a brand.

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