The importance of standardization in graphic design

The importance of standardization in graphic design

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Creating a great brand is the core focus of any great company. Your brand defines how your customers perceive and interact with your company. To build a memorable brand, you need to make sure that your customers can easily recognize your identity and relate to the values of your business. In other words, people value creativity and consistency.

When it comes to creativity, everyone easily understands that it implies making something new and attractive. But, of course, it is not an easy exercise as making something that pleases the masses and has an identity can sometimes be challenging. It is a daily challenge for every designer.

What is standardization?

As if things were not difficult enough, a new concept kicks in when you want to design a memorable brand: Standardization also referred to as Uniformization. While the terms may sound technical, rest assured that the concept is simple and straightforward.

Image 1: Ferrari cars

Image 2: Lamborghini cars

Let's look at those two (2) images. On top, you have a collection of vehicles from Ferrari, and on the bottom, a collection of vehicles from Lamborghini. Those two brands target customers in the same market, so using them as a design case study is easy. The first thing that you will notice is that you cannot mix up one brand for the other. Ferrari cars' design uses curved lines and is very different from designs from Lamborghini cars that use straight lines. Even if we remove the logo and ask you to choose which brand it is, you will easily guess it. How do they achieve this? Very easy. All Ferrari cars are different from other cars that you find commonly. It is their identity. At the same time, all Ferrari cars look alike somehow, as if there were sisters from the same family. This is Uniformization.

The common traits between the different Ferrari models are the standards Ferrari designers use each time they create a new model. If you are asked to design the next Ferrari, you should follow the standards set so that when someone sees this new model even without a logo, they could tell that it is a Ferrari. Standards are not just general traits; many standards will focus on specific points that you need to get right to ensure that all models have the same DNA. For instance, if you pay close attention, you will notice that all current models of Ferrari in production have a circular or oval-shaped rear light. There are not many car brands with circular-shaped rear lights. So this small detail is important to the brand as it helps them stand out, but it also helps ensure that people easily recognize the car.  If you apply for a design internship at Pininfarina tomorrow and are asked to design a Ferrari, you will probably not pass the first round if your design does not have a round rear light.

Image 3: Typical rounded rear lights of a Ferrari car

The same principle applies to graphic design. The best brands use standardization to ensure that people easily recognize their visual communication. For example, if you are an amateur advertising designer, you have noticed that all Apple commercials have the same theme even if the products and the actors are not the same.

A brand can achieve uniformity in all its visual contents by using certain fonts, colors, patterns, and visual elements in general. This makes it easy for customers to recognize assets associated with a brand that they love. In the technical jargon, these elements used to establish uniformity are defined by a style guideline. The style guideline guides any designer in creating assets that follow the brand's standards.

The advantages of standardization

The good news is that while style guidelines and standardization generally add more constraints, they also benefit from making the designer's life easier by focusing on content creation.

Consistency at scale

When a brand gets bigger, it is very common to need more hands to work on its visual assets. If this is not done properly, each designer will go in their own direction. In the end, there is a great chance that visuals will not look alike. Customers will be very confused when they see the assets and will probably relate to the brand. For example, some assets may use warm colors, while others use cold colors. In case of a mix-up, this will send mixed signals which are harder to interpret.

A key benefit of any graphic standards for a brand is cohesion among designers who work with the brand. Standards defined in a style guide help create cohesion, direction, and clarity for all design decisions regardless of designers. A visual style guide also helps alleviate the guesswork. A new designer creating visuals for the brand knows and understands which elements to use and how to use them.

Design faster

It is very easy for a designer to explore new ideas and experiment with new concepts when working on a new project. The truth is that it is a very gratifying intellectual exercise to let your imagination go wild. The caveat is that this is often unproductive as time and resources are usually limited. In fact, without any constraints, there are so many different directions that you can explore that you end up spending too much time thinking about what the best option is going to be.

This is where a design guideline can save you time and energy while keeping you focused on your objectives. As counterintuitive as it may seem, a study from New York University found that restricting the choice of creative inputs actually enhances creativity.

Young designers often see standardization as a creative constraint, whereas it is all the opposite. Instead, it is a way to make design meaningful at scale while saving time, making collaboration easier, and making a brand memorable. This means designers can focus more on the story they want to tell than torturing their minds on which stroke width to use or which shade of navy blue to go for.

Update: The Shinobi Design Challenge - Mission 1 has been released