Some thoughts about Identity manuals
John David Lloyd 2013

In 2013 the graphic designer, writer, and publisher, Adrian Shaughnessy, asked for my thoughts on identity manuals; here are his questions, and my answers.

Q: What was the first manual you designed (or directed)?

JL  The first comprehensive manual I wrote and designed was for the international pharmaceutical company, Aspro Nicholas, for whom I also created a new visual identity. The company was headquartered in Australia and, to reflect greater international activity, changed its name to Nicholas International. I designed a new logotype, a new corporate display typeface, a colour scheme, and formats for the use of these elements. The manual provided guidelines for the application of the new identity to printed communications, signs, vehicles, consumer packaging (such as Aspro and Radox), and pharmaceutical packaging aimed at the medical profession. The Nicholas name was not a consumer product brand but was a corporate brand used to identify the company as a whole and to endorse consumer and pharmaceutical products. That project was completed in 1969 when I was Joint Head of Graphic Design at Allied International Designers. Some pages from the manual can be found on my web archive, here:

Q: The best one you designed (or directed)? 

JL  It is hard to pick one, but I think the guidelines we developed at Lloyd Northover for the nuclear group, BNFL, did the job well. An extensive multi-volume manual of technical guidelines was supplemented by a separate overview document that summarised the strategy and practicalities.

Q: What in your view, as an expert in the field of identity, were the great brand manuals – and what were the qualities that made them superior? 

JL  A corporate identity guide should be simple, utterly clear, and practically useful. Of the Modernist graphics identity guides, those produced by Paul Rand under IBM's design director, Eliot Noyes, from the mid 1950s onwards, fulfil those requirements. Paul Rand's graphic standards guides were impeccable and were continually updated throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Rather than being elaborate manuals, Rand's guides often took the form of a handbook of recommendations. But, identity management at IBM went much farther than the logo and graphics standards. Eliot Noyes himself focused on product design and sought the help of masters in other disciplines: Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and Marcel Breuer were hired as architects; Charles and Ray Eames created a series of promotional films and exhibitions; and Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder, among others, provided artworks. Design standards were developed for products, interiors, and architecture, and there were also standards for corporate culture, behaviour and dress. The IBM approach to identity management is the supreme example because it embraced every aspect of the company's being. The Westinghouse identity and guidelines, also by Rand, comprise another notable example of total identity management.

Q: Can you describe the process at Lloyd Northover for designing a manual – and do you have to be a certain sort of designer to produce a manual?

JL  The process is the same as it would be for the production of any piece of corporate communication. The most important stages are the first two in which the purpose, uses, and contents, of the manual are identified. The key stages are:

1 Define the purpose and audiences

  • Identify the purpose of the manual; is it to:
  • –  Strengthen trade mark protection?
  • –  Achieve cost-savings through rationalisation?
  • –  Explain the reasons and strategy behind the identity system?
  • –  Provide guidance for expressing the tone and personality of the organisation?
  • –  Provide formats, templates and artwork for various expressions of the identity?
  • Who will use the manual; is it for:
  • –  Creative professionals who understand such things?
  • –  Managers with little knowledge of design and implementation?
  • How will the guidelines be used?
  • –  What creative and practical implementation resources will be available?
  • –  Will the guidelines be centrally held, or will they be distributed to subsidiaries, divisions, affiliates, suppliers, sub-contractors?
  • –  Should the guidelines be in printed or online form, or both?

2 Prepare a list of verbal and visual contents

3 Write and design the guidelines

4 Prepare artwork and obtain approvals

5 Supervise production and distribution

I always write my own manuals. Other designers may prefer to work with a separate writer. Most guidelines contain a lot of technical information, so a designer of identity guidelines needs to be happy handling a lot of nitty-gritty detail. If a manual is more about 'tone of voice' than grids and technical specifications then a designer with a less formal approach may be more suitable.

Q: As designers, we can admire the discipline and craft found in the great manuals of the past, but are/were they simply too restrictive and didactic to be of any real use? And how effective do you think they were at maintaining a cohesive identity for a business or organisation or were they really dinosaurs that kept designers busy, and CEO's happy but little else?

JL  Sometimes a design manual needs to be restrictive and didactic. In the 1960s I prepared a huge manual for the Dutch electronics giant, Philips, that had trade mark protection as its main purpose. Philips had two key visual trade marks: the Philips wordmark and an emblem in the form of a shield. In order to maintain the legal protection of these two marks and to prevent others from using them, the trade mark lawyers at Philips decreed that the two marks should appear on every piece of corporate and marketing communications, and on every advertisement, product, pack, sign, vehicle, uniform and so on, around the world. But, there was a further complication: it was found that, if the two marks were positioned close together they were deemed to be what the trade mark lawyers called a 'combination mark' and when this happened, the legal protection of both marks could be weakened or lost. So, a detailed manual specifying the precise relationship between the two marks and their use in all contexts became a serious legal necessity. The manual contained design specifications for all the usual things: sign systems, vehicle liveries, stationery, but was conceived as a water-tight legal document. In preparing the manual, I also took the opportunity to update the wordmark and shield emblem. Trade marks are highly valuable assets that must be protected at all costs. The IBM brand, alone, was valued at 112 billion US Dollars in 2013. Most of the manuals I have worked on have had trade mark protection as one of the key objectives. But, identity guidelines should not be a straitjacket; IBM has always believed that their guidelines should encourage creative freedom within constraints. Paul Rand put it like this in 1990 in his guideline booklet The IBM logo: 'Innovative solutions are more the product of restraints than of freedoms – of cultural limitations, scarcity of funds and materials, production capabilities, and demands of the marketplace'.

I, too, believe that working within a pre-determined framework can often liberate creative thought, rather than impede it; think of those wonderfully creative Volkswagen ads by Doyle Dane Bernbach in the 1960s, all of which used exactly the same rigid layout and typography. When art directors do not have to worry about inventing a visual format, they are free to be truly creative.

Even when the main purpose of a manual is to exert regulation, I like to use a style of expression that is one of positive encouragement, rather than strict control. I would rather say: 'The logo always appears in blue', rather than: 'The logo must never appear in colours other than blue'.

The best corporate identity manuals aid consistency of expression and enhance cohesion. History shows that, in so doing, they give their owners a proven competitive advantage.

In my experience, no client has engaged in the production of identity guidelines for reasons of self-aggrandisement. All the manuals I have worked on have been produced because they were absolutely necessary. A properly implemented corporate identity can perform many essential functions: it can help to bring about a sense of common purpose in merger situations; it can raise and sharpen the corporate profile; it can signal a new direction for a reinvigorated company; it can provide a catalyst for significant structural and management change; and it can bring considerable cost savings through the rationalisation and standardisation of products, packaging, literature, signs, environments, and fleetmarking.

Q: Today, we think of the great brand manuals as extravagant and non-environmentally sustainable. Also, they often they became redundant when mergers and acquisitions took place, but what did we lose – or gain – when printed manuals became online guidelines?

JL  When a company has vast physical assets – such as road, and rail vehicles, ships, industrial equipment, offices, factories and retail outlets, as well as products, packaging, and communications materials – printed identity manuals inevitably become bulky and cumbersome in their attempt to cover in detail all aspects of implementation. And, when companies merge, an identity manual may become obsolete; redundant manuals are an unavoidable consequence of corporate evolution. Printed manuals are very costly to produce and inconvenient to keep up to date. Once created, online guidelines are much cheaper to reproduce and much easier to update and distribute. Online guidelines have many advantages over printed manuals: artwork and templates can be readily accessed and advice and help can be easily provided. But, without a printed manual to hand, digital guidelines can feel remote. To see an example of a logo or a particular application in print makes it much more real and immediate. So, the ideal solution is to have a concise and easily updated overview document in print, and a comprehensive set of instructions and implementation tools online.

Q: Modern brand guidelines, in contrast to the manuals of the past, seem more concerned with 'look and feel' and 'tone of voice' rather than the rigid enforcement of graphic elements. Do you agree with this – and if so, are we really looking at the difference between identity and branding? 

JL  The best manuals have always been concerned with expressing corporate personality as well as providing implementation guidelines and tools. To return to the IBM example, the first thing Eliot Noyes did when he took over as design director in 1956 was to identify what he called the 'corporate character' of the organisation and he did this by discussing objectives and strategy with top management in order to define what the company was all about. He was determined to strike a harmony between business strategy and design strategy. Noyes described himself as the 'curator of corporate character' and set out to express the identity and character of IBM through the design of every visible manifestation of the company. At IBM, 'tone of voice' and 'look and feel' were just as important as design control.

I think it is true to say that, in the past, the majority of identity manuals put the emphasis on the enforcement of visual standards.

Today, the term 'branding' is favoured over the term 'corporate identity'. 'Branding' tends to deal with the more 'touchy-feely' aspects of identity and is used more in relation to consumer products, whereas 'identity' has more to do with corporate image. So, here are my definitions of 'corporate identity' and 'corporate brand':

Corporate identity
This term is widely used as a useful all-encompassing term covering the entire subject area. There is a tighter definition. An organisation's corporate identity is what constitutes the organisation and what makes it genuinely individual. As with a person, an organisation's true identity is based on reality, not perceptions. It is made up of beliefs, principles, what the subject does and how it behaves. An organisation's true corporate identity is not always clearly communicated or perceived.

Corporate brand
An original meaning of the term brand was to burn a mark into something with a hot iron to show ownership or quality. A corporate brand represents an organisation as a whole, whereas a product brand represents a product or service. Today, the term corporate branding has been widened to cover the process of building a strong corporate image that is rooted in an organisation's true corporate identity. Visual identity is a key component of brand building but a corporate brand is made up of much more; it is determined by everything that influences how you feel about an organisation. Here is my definition of a corporate brand: A corporate brand is the sum total of all the perceptions, knowledge, and experience that people have of an organisation.

Q: I'm thinking mainly of web design here, but what in your view, is the role of brand guidelines in modern communications?  

JL  At first glance, it would seem to make sense for an organisation that operates primarily online to have digital identity guidelines. But, hard copies of guidelines can also be useful and convenient. For an online business, the essential role of identity guidelines is the same as it has always been for traditional businesses: to give guidance on the expression of the corporate character, and to provide practical aids for implementation of the visual, verbal, and behavioural aspects of identity.


John David Lloyd: