How to Maintain a Positive Attitude & Avoid Being Branded a “Jerk”

HOW’s In-House Inspiration issue gives you a peek behind the curtain at NPR, the details on 89 award-winning in-house designs, and steps for preparing for the inevitable—change. Plus: How locking in an iron-clad infrastructure will strengthen your team.

shutterstock_86111113If you’re an in-house designer, you produce work regularly, and in many cases you have to police work made by your colleagues who may or may not be designers. Your peers will have to use the brand assets in the process, but the secret to finding success, as well as maintaining a positive aura around yourself, lies in knowing what to do and what not to do, so you avoid being branded a “jerk.”

Doing It Yourself

If you have the time, energy and abilities to take on the creation of all of the brand assets your organization needs, prepare yourself for a long and arduous journey. It can be done, but it’s a lot of work, and it requires just the right demeanor to get things done. It’s a process that can take months to accomplish, and when you’re done, one of the first steps to making it easy on your co-workers is to give them the tools they need to succeed: a brand guidebook and the brand assets.

You may want to involve your co-workers in the process of defining what brand assets are needed, such as Word or PowerPoint templates, as well as email footers, file formats can also be tricky since some won’t know the difference between a CMYK TIFF and an RGB JPEG. Learning about their file format needs should also be an opportunity to educate them about what works and what doesn’t work: “These files are for printing, these are for the web, and these are for social media.”

Be sure to show them the reasons behind these choices too, since examples of good and bad file formatting, as well as pixelated “stair-stepping” will provide them with visuals that are easier to remember than “tech speak.”

Establish a Brand Guide

This doesn’t have to be a long, arduous and complicated testament to all things about your brand. But, it should cover these specifics:

  • the brand platform, including your mission and values, to spell out your brand’s core truths in writing
  • the brand promise, personality, and any positioning statement
  • brand identity look and feel, such as the mark, that can include the logo, wordmark, logotype, and any other visuals used to visually express your brand
  • acceptable in-house typography, including font names
  • guidelines for color, greyscale, and black and white
  • color codes for print, RGB, and hex, used in print and digital arenas
  • examples of the visual assets in use
  • examples of the visual assets improperly used, to show staff members what not to do

Formatting the brand guide can be tricky. Will you make a PDF? Will it be a website? What if it’s both? There are benefits to each method. A PDF is easily transportable, and can live on the web, be sent through email, and can also be printed out easily for staff members to have near their workstation when they’re doing creative work. But what happens when that PDF becomes outdated, and content is either updated or no longer relevant? You’ll have a wealth of PDFs spread across the organization. You’ll need to give notice that they’re out-of-date, and request they all be returned to you for destruction, or if you’re resourceful, you can find a way to update and return them to your colleagues.

Making it into a website might appear to be a better solution: all of the content is in one place, and you can update it on the fly. But truth be told, you may have staff members who print out the website, and use that paper copy when they need to. I worked at one organization where the brand guidelines were a PDF, that had printing prohibited, and a staff member took screen captures, printed them out, and made their own brand book in a three-ring binder. A PDF or website each have their advantages, and no matter which one of them you go with, it’ll be important to let staff members know when updates have been made. If printed copies are floating around the office, and updates happened, require them to return all print outs to you before the new guide rolls out. This allows you to act as a gatekeeper: once you’ve collected their out-of-date materials, you give them the new ones.

Formatting and Providing the Brand Assets

Make the visual brand assets available to your staff members, and make sure to format files in a way they can use them. If you have colleagues on Windows, you may want to provide BMP files and JPEGs, for easily placing in Office documents. Do some preliminary data collection to see what programs your colleagues use, and format the assets for them in advance.

Other tips include:

  • delivering the brand assets in a variety of formats, including ones that have immediate use for print and online, as well as others that may be used in the future, making sure to have a set for “low res” use such as in email footers, and also “high res” use such as for an adaptive/responsive website or HD TV
  • putting the visual assets in a shared space, such as on a server
  • letting your colleagues know how people outside of your organization can get those assets, be they members of the media or creatives you might outsource work to
  • making the Brand Guidelines readily available to those outside your organization in case they need it
  • if you are using in-house fonts, make sure they’re licensed and paid for, appropriately and correctly, for everyone on staff, as well as your vendors; consult the license agreement that comes with your fonts, or contact the font designer or distributor with any questions you may have

When Colleagues Mess Up

It can be easy to point out the things that are inherently wrong when you see a colleague mis-use or abuse the brand assets. And you should absolutely point out errors, especially if they’ve done something like squash the logo, or use the wrong color. The worst case imaginable? When they try to recreate the entire logo themselves. When I worked as an in-house designer years ago, a new staff member recreated the brand identity using Microsoft Word and Paint, and had it plastered on all of their department’s marketing materials. It was a poor reproduction and it went out to a large mailing list.

This happened over one weekend, but by the time I noticed it, the materials had already been distributed. We talked about what to do together, and how to fix the problem so it wouldn’t happen again. We also talked about checking in with each other, so I could assist with the identity, and other graphics. In the end, this was a load of her shoulders: she had enough to do already, and didn’t want to manage the graphics too. Then and now, I feel that including my colleague in the repair process was tantamount to establishing respect. Had I taken steps to go over her head, and go to our boss, this could have spelled disaster and distrust. Work together whenever you can.

Outsourcing All of It

If your design, communication, and marketing duties keep you too busy for creating and managing the items above, it may be wise to outsource the brand creation and guidelines to an outside organization. There are plenty of design agencies who specialize in this very practice, and they do an excellent job. Moreover, if an outside group is taking care of the work, there’s a better chance that you and your colleagues will follow through, and follow directions.

If your organization is especially large, you may have to outsource the work. There are cases where an organization has many offices, scattered across a region or country, and each office has many departments within it. Those would be good examples of where outsourcing the brand creation and identity would help everyone, including the designer. But budget (or a lack of budget) can prohibit this. If there’s a way for you, as the designer, to work with the outside agency, and assist them with the creative, management, and distribution tasks, you may be able to cut down on the expense. But if you’re going to do some work, you might want to consider doing all of it yourself. Especially since it will be an excellent addition to your portfolio, and give you the opportunity to work directly with your colleagues.

Design Expert Advice: Keys to Success

  1. working in a small 2-3 person team to establish the brand and the brand guidelines
  2. having an art director, creative director, and/or designer on that team
  3. having somebody in upper management on that team, making sure to get buy-in from them at all phases of creation, review, and distribution
  4. having regular reviews of any and all visual materials circulated internally and externally, with 1-2 people acting as the brand gatekeepers
  5. giving colleagues assets so they can do their jobs, and create visuals when and where they need to
  6. but also being available to take that work off their hands, if, for whatever reason, they’re unable to use the assets or create the visuals
  7. holding workshops to demonstrate best practices, and show colleagues how to use their tools (be it Microsoft Office, or other layout applications) for laying out and composing with the brand assets

Allowing (Some) Creative Freedom… the Secret Sauce

Whether you do it all yourself or outsource it, one thing’s for certain: people at your organization won’t want to be bound too tightly by “brand rules” that restrict them. Designers thrive in situations where creative freedom is plentiful. Chances are your non-designer colleagues will too, whether they’re in copywriting, public relations or fundraising. The important thing is to establish resources your colleagues can use, and the right reasons for using them the way your guidebook says to. Ultimately, you’ll need to pick your battles, all while keeping the brand in line and not coming across as a jerk.

Want more in-house expertise?

T5489Learn how your in-house team can be lean and more effective in this Expert Guide on Lean Design Teams from HOW.