On developing a brand identity guide for The Guardian

Earlier this month, The Guardian released a new brand identity guide. Taking from elements of the redesigned print and digital platforms, it aims to create a unified design philosophy across the vast iterations, sub-brands and business needs of The Guardian. Creative Director Alex Breuer explains the thinking behind the recently released guidelines.

What prompted The Guardian’s new brand identity guide?

When I joined the Guardian, I was faced with the task of unifying a myriad of different styling, typographic patterns, color theory and grammar that through various different iterations of the guardian had weaved itself into the tapestry of our design vernacular. Over the past two years we have been going through fairly intensive redesign and relaunch of all the Guardian’s digital platforms and a refresh of the paper. The conclusion of the process has been the establishment of the guardian’s new editorial design language. The brand landscape for the guardian is a hugely complex one. At its core is all the richness and variety of our journalism, and to represent that we have evolved and identity that serves and guides discovery of these different tones of voice. Beyond that we have a wide ranging group of other propositions, businesses and sub-brands. This added layer of diversity — meaning we had to evolve an editorial language beyond a marque & design toolkit to serve the needs of e-commerce, events, which have different demands, and still maintain the fundamental link and trust to a very human, open and collaborative journalistic identity.

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The Guardian has a strong visual brand, that has a lot of continuity across platforms. What are some key parts of The Guardian’s overall philosophy visual philosophy?

Our identity isn’t just our masthead — it is a rich kit of parts that resonate in our brand DNA. From our smallest articulation the roundel, to tonal color theory for different accents of content. But one of the key aspects of our philosophy is how we use space and typography. We have very a accurately defined grid system that is based on our core image aspect ratio. This not only helps define space and proportion of the individual components of the design but also how negative space is used too. Although probably largely invisible to our readers it is actually one of the most important aspects of design philosophy in defining the Guardian’s visual identity. We have applied a level of design rethinking and precision to our digital platforms that hitherto have largely failed to transfer from analog forms. This was a challenge as ‘conventions’ for digital platforms were sometime to counter to our thinking. But we had the confidence, built on solid user research, that real typographic beauty and elegant use of proportion was something our readers could handle and we could move beyond the prevailing technical ugliness of most of the net

The rich amalgamation of these help reinforce the guardian’s core identity wherever in the world and whatever form it may appear.

How much of the new guide was building upon previous guidelines and how much was about establishing new guidelines?

There were some core pillars that were there at the outset that underpin the new guidelines. Our font, guardian Egyptian, our happiness with being bold with colour. And the belief in the basic principles of space, proportion and structure. Beyond that the Guardian has never really had a guideline of this scale. Editorially it has always been in the minds of the team of designers working across the portfolio. There had been a guideline for commercial communications but this had only the slenderest of tethers between it and the editorial design language. So this was pretty much from the ground up. At the outset we knew we wanted to extend these guidelines out to embrace the design needs of the whole organisation. Although sometimes the marketing and commercial areas of the business have different needs. We knew that by deploying the basic design principles we would empower everyone at the guardian to engender the values and trust that our brand represents across all platforms and touch points.

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Color plays heavily into The Guardian’s branding. Can you elaborate on the thinking behind the use of color as a navigational tool for your readers?

Previously the color language was a reflection of the departments of the building: news, sport, travel, opinion, entertainment. The had been broadened and in many ways diluted across the wider business. I was very keen to resolve this with the readers interests at heart. So we have evolved a tonal system. Tonal is terms of types of message. We have rich and complex editorial pages. Color for sections misses the opportunity to help guide readers to different journalistic tones. We know that many readers come to a story at different times. Some want to know the what, some want to know the who, some want to know the why. Whilst we had a section based color system we could only communicate a simple subject area. With our tonal system we can now guide readers to The news, the analysis, the opinion, the reviews, the features/interviews and the full range of multimedia content. This allows to produce complex rich experiences on mobile where real estate is tight and provide a very clear signposting to all the multifarious arcs of a story.

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The guide covers traditional topics like modularity, photography, and typography. Why did you choose to emphasize data-driven storytelling in the new brand guidelines?

So much of our journalism and communications from the wider business have elements to their narratives involving data. From economic analysis through product performance to engagement and metrics around reader journeys for our commercial teams. Editorially we have Xaquin Gonzalez & Cath Levett’s brilliant graphics team dedicated to analysing a presenting data narratives. But the clarity of communication the excel at is also really valuable to the wider business. We wanted to share and hopefully install those values and approaches across the whole organisation. Its easy to forget that the people who sit in front of you at presentations and meetings are slow readers of the Guardian, they are used to and deserve the level of execution of data visualization across the whole Guardian.

Typography is viewed as an integral part of a publication’s identity. Can you share some of the history of The Guardian’s roundel, which is now a key part of your identity across social media?

The roundel is the design shorthand for the guardian. Many people first encounter with the guardian is on social. We have limited time and space to be distinct. Before the development of the roundel we just used a lowercase ‘g’ in guardian egyptian. As with many digital design conventions this had been widely arrived at as a solution, without any real thinking about it being a brand marque. Was just a space defined abbreviation. We weren’t the only major brand whose name started with slower case ‘g’. Some awfully nice folks from Mountain View chose the same route. So I was very keen that we evolved something that could be all our own. The use of circles was evolving as a navigational motif across our new site & apps. So i decided to explore the placement of the ‘g’ in a circle. As many typographers know this ind of g is not a symmetrical character. So I began to explore slight adjustments to the character form so the proportions felt more balanced and even within the circle. I also adjusted the size of the counters so they had a better balance with the negative space surrounding it.