Visual Identity guidelines vs. Product design guidelines

26 Aug 2013 - 1:26pm
2 years ago
4 replies
4273 reads

I have been asked to (again) explain this difference at my work and am searching for a fresh perspective on this conversation. Has anyone else here ever had to explain this difference to others? What explanation did you use & did it work for you?


3 Sep 2013 - 6:26am
Duane Degler

Restaurant analogies sometimes help, as most people have experience with that. There is a difference between the decorative theme/uniform style and the underlying layout, menu, procedures, ability to execute a decently prepared meal, etc. that make up the overall experience. Both are important, but they are different.

3 Sep 2013 - 8:41am

Visual identity guidelines should only outline the visual identity system of a brand. A good example is Tufts University guidelines: This guide only covers the visual system and proper/improper usage of that system as it relates to the broader brand (i.e., messaging, tone, logo usage). 

Product design guidelines (I'm making an assumption that this is a digital product/software app) covers user experience and functionality. These guidelines address design principles, common controls, and interaction patterns. The visual identity guidelines will inform the product design guidelines (or we may call them UX guidelines) and include guidance on the visual system as it relates to the product. A great example of ux guidelines is MS Windows:

I believe there's a strong argument to have separate guidelines. The visual identity guidelines should speak to the vision of the broader brand while the product/ux guidelines document will likely be a fairly complex document, laying out overarching design principles and breaking down common controls and interaction patterns. Both of these guidelines will/should be living documents; keeping them separate allows for each to be more scalable. 

3 Sep 2013 - 9:00am

The BBC has a great sample that somewhat merges the Product and Brand guidelines. 

3 Sep 2013 - 3:33pm

A product and an indentity are both borne of a brand. Brand indentity is the visual manifestation of a brand. Similarly, a product is also a manifestation of a brand insofar as it embodies the vision and values that define a brand. Brand is linked with animal husbandry, where cattle had the symbolic mark of their owner/breeder burned (Germanic=brand) into their flesh to denote ownership. A logo (logotype or logogram) falls under the general term a brand mark (marque if you are French). So, brand is really the manifestation of a way of doing things. Product and identity are simply a demonstration and manifestation  of an ethos. A sloppy and ill-defined ethos (brand vision and values) gives rise to sloppy product and identity. A brand vision and values that is followed gives rise to commensurate product and identity. Cultures, religions, political movements are all examples of brands. Obama has a brand of leadership, Picasso has a brand of creativity, etc.

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