They’re also frustrating and necessary.

Brand guidelines are the blueprint for corporate art. They provide the do’s and don’ts, and the desired application. Shared across company communications, the intention is to provide a united front on how the company brand goes to market. A graphic designer or team has developed an image to embody the values and identity of the company or organization. Guidelines typically include direction on typeface, size, colour, backgrounds and whitespace (the minimum space that surrounds the artwork). The rules of engagement typically read, if it doesn’t say you can, you can’t.

Art director and vice-president of operations, Julia Gagnon of Attraction Inc. knows all too well the balance of creative interpretation and corporate guidelines. A second-generation leader in the family owned company based in Lac-Drolet, Que., her team of fashion
designers regularly works to inspire new looks for corporate branding.

“We have much design expertise from our history providing original retail merchandise for the souvenir industry. Our artists seek inspiration from a lot of different sources: pictures from travel around the world, Pinterest and other brands we follow. Our production team is also a great inspiration, sharing with us new ideas on how to apply or mix different decoration techniques,” says Gagnon.

Examples of inspired branding by Fersten Worldwide, and how different looks across different products can still have brand coordination.

In Saint Laurent, Que., senior account executive Vicky Sarantopoulos of Fersten Worldwide expressed that unique does not have to mean busy.

“Less is more to create the look and feel of retail-inspired product. Simple does not necessarily equal boring. Using the right decoration technique with the right product can create a fantastic result. For example, a custom leather patch with a deboss design provides a clean, tonal, high-class presentation ready for any retail outlet. Even something as simple as a woven tab label can make a big statement.”

Despite the added value of professional design consultation, many corporate buyers shy away from the creative interpretations in favour
of the traditional, safe, left-chest logo location.

Asked if the decision making process was frustrating, Leung shared, “We aimed to disrupt branded corporate apparel with large impact locations, creative locations and multimedia. Sometimes it can be frustrating, because you feel that you have presented very viable ideas that look great, and you want to push the client to try something new! It’s much easier to guess how adventurous a client can be based on their industry and demographic.

“We understand it is a huge commitment to venture outside the box. It’s easier to present something new when you have the backup of retail designs. I’ve noticed a lot of uniforms the last few years where the branding is bold, large print down the sleeve, or a large icon at the back hip, and companies are starting to have more fun with their branding.”

a feature written by 'JP' Joshua Paxton, staff writer

In a world fascinated by expression, I challenge that the limitations set forth by corporate brand guidelines is restricting the creative application of logos and messages, and in doing so, is losing potential audience engagement.

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Fun seems to be the operative word and the pivot point of consideration. Is the application meant to be fun? Or when this garment or product goes to market do we need to be communicating a more reserved message and let the brand stand alone, stark against a plain backdrop? 

My challenge is that the traditional uniform look has little appeal outside of the workplace, and so the brand building opportunity is limited to an audience already familiar with the company culture. In order to expand the audience reach corporate teamwear must consider practical applications outside the workplace. This includes comfort, quality and branding.

Leung echoes my thoughts and offers an example from her own experience.

“I received a T-shirt when I recently joined a gym—a printed left-chest logo on a heavy, itchy cotton shirt with a collar that chokes my neck when I wear it. That one I use to mop my floors. Then I attended a women’s workshop and was gifted a super soft blended fabric T-shirt. It had a rounded neck and similar left-chest and full back screen print. This one I wear regularly, because it looks and feels good.”

Branded clothing is an investment, and to get the best return you need to consider the audience and the outcome. There will always be budget restraint but like other opportunities you can maximize your results by spending smarter, not less.  Gagnon recommends that an open conversation takes place before product selection to better achieve the desired result.

“Creating artwork for apparel is very different than any other type of goods. There are many different aspects to consider. For example, if your range of sizes starts at ladies’ extra small and goes up through men’s 4X-large, you may have to consider multiple design sizes, because the maximum screen print on the smaller sizes will look tiny and out of place on the larger garments. Costing is based on quantity and impacted by setup fees. To maximize a budget you need a design specialist to guide your decision-making.”

With guidance from my professional consultants, my conclusion then is that brand guidelines do choke creative interpretation and prevent more fashionable brand presentations, but the impact of a decorative finish on engaging an audience runs third place to the impact of a favorable fabric and fit.

Attraction Inc. employs designers with fashion and retail background experience to better deliver corporate branded merchandise with a first-class, retail ready quality and presentation. 

"When working on a new design I visit the client website and social media accounts, to experience their style and branding. I’ll go on to investigate their competitors, to get a feel for how companies are presented in their industry. That gives me an idea of how to help this client stand out,” says Leung.

The result is often impactful, she says.

“I discovered in a client About Us write-up that their partnership began many years before as they listened to the Ramones in their garage. I created artwork for their brand based around the Ramones logo and they were so surprised. They loved the homage to their history.”

Trimark imagineers like Jessica have a growing reputation for using mixed media - a combination of different decoration techniques - to achieve inspiring fashion designs that communicate branding messages.

Creating artwork for apparel is very different than any other type of goods. There are many different aspects to consider.

Guides v Growth: Are Brand Guidelines Limiting Brand Growth?

When asked about the challenge of convincing brand keepers of stepping outside the brand guidelines, getting away from uniform presentation in favour of retail-inspired fashion, Gagnon answers with a smile and a laugh of experience.

“We have been pounding that message for the past 10 years. We take great time and care developing new ideas and interpretations to meet current trends, but at the end of the day the customer knows what he needs, and we respect that. Creating something simple is also more complicated than it may seem; sometimes we need to explore more complex layouts to realize that the simple design was doing the job better.”

In Richmond Hill, Ont., graphic designer and imagineer Jessica Leung shares a similar story. For the betterpart of the past decade PCNA-Trimark Sportswear has provided clients with illustrative storyboards to inspire the imagination of purchasing teams seeking new-look corporate wear.

“When I’m creating original artwork I always need to know what and who is this for? Designing uniforms will be completely different from designing something that goes into their e-store,” says Leung.

This creative insight and expertise is a great tool for those less-creative when it comes to design, and less familiar with the many options of multi-media branding. The storyboard presentations often include unique logo layouts and feature mixed-media designs where different techniques are layered to form a brilliant result.