Most larger agencies are great at creating inspiring design guidelines, the problem, however, is that guideline documents often do not account for the limited capacity of the teams who are supposed to use them.
Having lead international campaigns for a number of global organisations, I have come to learn that most campaign work targeting an international market, regardless organisation, are created following a similar structure where the head office define a foundational campaign strategy but leave room for their satellite offices around the world to adapt campaign copy and visuals to the respective national culture.
Typically, a number of adverts are produced (film and still) together with design templates for print and digital which is sent to each local market together with general campaign guidelines. Due to differences in the perception model between national cultures, some of the local offices might then take the decision to, for example, re-shoot campaign photography using models of the national ethnicity of the country where the advert will be distributed and also adapt the campaign copy.
Creating campaign guidelines that are easy to adapt to diverse cultural perception models is vital, especially in international campaigns, but also can be a huge challenge. To create cross-cultural design guidelines, you need to have a profound understanding of how cultural differences of your target markets are manifested in the perception of design which is illustrated well in Hofstede’s theory of dimensions of culture (Hofstede, 2017).
In addition to creating guidelines that are adapted to the culture of each target market, it is also
important that the core visual concept presented can be easily “copied” by the local design teams. If, for example, photography guidelines are presented by photography made by a photographer with a distinct style what often happens is that you get into a situation where a local market won’t be able to conform to stated visual campaign guidelines. I have seen this first-hand many times, latest working with an international product launch for one of the world’s largest consumer brands were we had to fly a photographer around the world as the photography made by local branches was not in line with our quality guidelines which delayed the campaign for almost three months and additional production costs of many millions.
The importance of creating visual strategies that are not dependent on the distinct style of, for example, a particular photographer is also important when creating visual strategies for smaller organisations.
While many organisations work with external freelancers and agencies to create overall design strategies, many also have an in-house team responsible for creating “day-to-day” assets such as brochures, one-shot adverts and to run the organisations website. In my experience what often happens in set-ups where an external agency has been responsible for creating design guidelines, is that the in-house team after the hand-over many times do not have the skills or the capacity to follow the carefully crafted guidelines created by the external team’s top-designers, resulting in the internal team starting to dispel them.
The takeaway from this is the fact that successful design strategies account for, not only the business goals that a design ultimately are supposed to solve, but also that design concepts and guidelines are easy to follow and implement after you have left the building.
- Hofstede, Geert. Geert-hofstede.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.
- Hall, Stuart. Stuart Halls Model Of Encoding And Decoding. 1st ed. 1973. Web. 5 June 2017.