How holy is your brand book?

29/10/2021 Andreas

How holy is your brand book?

Nothing is holy in this cursed land >:)

Some companies that have a very powerful marketing department may have a dogmatic and absolute stand on brand guidelines. I understand very well that of course it’s absolutely necessary to have a coherent guideline for the visual communication in all channels. We UX designers also aim for coherency with tools like design systems, which usually are linked to brand guidelines. What I don’t understand is the inability or unwillingness to adjust the brand guidelines if they are proven to be flawed in UX sense.

In most companies, the marketing department tends to manage the brand and guidelines. This is perfectly fine and sensible, but there are issues that may sprawl if they overlook UX and instead have a narrow scope focused on marketing and sales. Accessibility requirements are the latest one that has shook the tree and revealed a lot of issues in different companies services. Accessibility is an important part of UX and that’s what this post is focused on.

As a UX designer I absolutely want to enable creativity. Sour “party pooper” reactions are still common if you are in the position to be responsible about the usability and accessibility aspect of an outsiders design. You need to make these issues clear to ensure that design meets UX criteria, it isn’t always welcomed with open arms if the other side is used to nondisciplinary creative expression.  I simply want to do my part to aid efforts to reach all audiences. Inclusive design is here, and accessibility is important for everyone (even non-visually impaired users). Not every company is required to even fulfill AAA requirements, AA may be sufficient to some. However, there are still plenty of great practises in WCAG that every UX designer should keep in mind.

The holy book

If the brand guidelines have poor palette with weak contrast AND there’s a clunky old-fashioned dogmatic structure in the company that doesn’t allow changes, it leaves you as a UX designer to have no say in usability issues. You may end up in a classical polarised conflict situation between undisciplined marketing creatives and disciplinary UX designers. This situation may not lead to a productive co-operation, and there must be a way to find room for adjustments. The grand vision can be achieved but only by working together. Only by embracing each others expertise in their respective fields. This means that also the accessibility aspect and the final technically feasible product should be finetuned together without too subjective and opinionated discourse. The flaws need to be addressed and fixed!

If the design infrastructure has been created holistically & with actual thought, there would be no need for UX designer to critize the guidelines. Everything would be just fine and dandy!

Accessible design doesn’t mean ugly design

When it comes to visual design, sufficient contrast is the easiest and simplest way to create designs that are visually accessible. Yet, it’s not uncommon to come across services and designs that – granted  look amazing , but have very poor contrast and legibility in headings/paragraph/UI components such as buttons. They sacrifice basic usability over looks. Yet, they still pride their excellent UX when the X basicly stand for sexy and not for user experience. And of course, there are plenty of good palette options that are both visually pleasant and accessible! To be fair, once again not every company needs to meet AAA requirements.

Most accessibility issues lies in meta level

Most of accessibility work lies in subsurface, in meta level, which is the most laborious part of accessible design. This meta level includes things such as keyboard navigation, content is nested logically in H1 & H2 etc., screenreaders & other UI functionality (ARIA). These doesn’t spark that much controversy with visual guidelines and can be implemented relatively easily without cross-department involvement.

How to get it right?

If a company rebranding project is ordered from an outside agency, it’s absolutely crucial to be sure that this agency is capable of providing an extensive and holistic guideline for not only marketing efforts but also digital channels. I’ve been involved in a corporate rebranding project where everything was planned holisticly digital first, and later I was involved in another similar project where company focused on story first – digital as an afterthought. You may have an idea which one was more painful for an UX designer…

It’s crucial to acknowledge the digital needs and make sure to create inclusive design right from the beginning. The basic principles and roles responsibilities should be set and agreed on collectively before rushing into a new flashy brand. As it comes to basicly everything, proper groundwork leads to more organized and efficient workflows.  It makes working easier, thats for sure!

A brand guideline should be an dynamic enabler rather than a static dogmatic set of ten commandments!

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