The problem of designing in handcuffs

The problem of designing in handcuffs

Do you think your brand is just a logo? Or perhaps it includes your corporate colour? Maybe it’s that clever little strapline you put on all your communications?


Your brand is one of your most valuable assets; for 13 years’ Coca-Cola held the top spot in Interbrand's influential listing of the leading 100 global brands. According to a report published by the Design Council, its brand equity is valued at $65.3bn, just under half the company’s true market value.

Branding is more than the just the way you look, it's about the way you make people feel; it is your business DNA, the very essence of your organisation. In an instant, your brand has to reflect everything your company has to offer, leaving people with a positive, lasting impression that makes them fall in love with you and want to do something about it.

According to a survey by Nielsen, nearly 60% of people prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them, and over a fifth say they have purchased a new product because it was from a brand they like.

However, a brand doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It takes time, dedication and creativity to capture everything that sits at the heart of your organisation and distil it into a format that can flow through your veins and out into the world. And then the key to maintaining that successful brand lies in consistency, ensuring that every person that interacts with your brand has an identical experience every time, regardless of who/what/when/where/why/how they engaged with you.

Ensuring brand consistency can only be achieved when your branding guidelines are followed to the letter. But this can present a creativity nightmare for designers. Just take a look at these examples...

World Cup kit

Designing the World Cup football kit might seem like a dream come true for some, but that’s before you’re hit with 92 pages of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations. In this complex document, every tiny detail is tightly controlled to maintain FIFA’s high-standards. Despite the document stating its purpose is “to allow the manufacturers to enhance our sport through aesthetic creativity and design”, the reality of designing within such binding guidelines must stifle creativity.

For example, there are rules governing:

  • The size, spacing and position of the numbers of the back of the men's shirts, with separate guidance for the numbers on the front.
  • How names and numbers are affixed to shirts.
  • Breathing holes in the fabric.
  • Colours, marks, logos and emblems on the kit, which differ according to the kit 'zone' they're located in.
  • …the list goes on.

Then there's the stipulation that numbers and letters must be ‘clearly legible and distinguishable from a distance for all players, match officials, spectators and media’. For a designer, this brings a whole new dimension of complexity to the process, as now you have to design with scale and legibility so your visuals are clear for the match, as well as all the distributed images.

Urban Outfitters

A brand that promises edgy fashion and quirky lifestyle products at affordable prices is ruled by an impressive 42-page set of guidelines.

It starts by covering everything you would expect in your typical guidelines: colour palette, logo, font, and wordmark. Then continues to take a hold over the types of photography allowed and the tone of voice. Becoming evermore prescriptive, it details how the brand must be positioned and communicated across all online and social media channels, including brand personas that come with a comprehensive backstory and photo album.

Finally, the story ends with a checklist approach of how every retail outlet should be fitted out with a "shabby chic trade mark interior" that "mirrors a rundown building stripped back to its shells that has been revived with colour, urban art and fashion."

So no real room for creativity there!

And perhaps the strangest set of guidelines...NASA

Who would have thought that a group of scientists and technical gurus would need a 220-page set of branding guidelines, presented in 'static shielding' packaging, and which is only available if you purchase it at a cost of $79?

With so many pages to fill, it’s no surprise that EVERYTHING has been covered in detail. For example:

  • You can tear out swatches to aid with colour matching on the go.
  • Guidance on logo placement for every piece of clothing and every type of vehicle (including space stations).
  • There’s even a section dedicated to how you should write "confidential" on documents (Allow 3 vertical increments between rules for handwritten forms, text type is 7 / 7 pt. Helvetica Medium for emphasis, form should print red on yellow paper stock to distinguish it from other case you were wondering!)

Confident, distinctive, inspirational graphic design starts here

Westminster School contains archives of its history that date back to 1868 when it split from Westminster Abbey. It is one of the UK’s leading academic schools and the only ancient London school to occupy its original site.

It needed marketing materials that protected its heritage, capturing the true essence of the school, and reflecting on its rich history, while being presented in a new, modern and stylish way. Perhaps easier said than done?

See why Westminster School says our designs are “fresh and original” here. To talk to us about your branding requirements just contact us on [email protected] or visit