Published on 21 May 2013 (Updated 21 May 2013)
The graphic charter is an essential tool that precisely defines the visual identity of a brand or company. Often overlooked and underestimated, it is nonetheless indispensable for the pertinent and coherent creation of new communication materials.
Various elements can be detailed in a charter, depending on the company’s needs. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the essentials for building a complete and adequate charter.
The main elements of visual identity
1 – Logo and baseline
Together with the brand name, the logo forms the main elements of the visual identity of an organization or product/service.
A logo is created for the long term and must be precisely defined within the graphic charter. How? With its baseline (if it has one) and in its translated versions (if it exists in several languages). In fact, its use and form must always be consistent over time and across media to maintain visual stability and establish brand visibility and awareness.
These are the characteristics that must be defined and included in the graphic charter:
- Typefaces used in the logo (when it’s a non-schematic typographic logo) or in any baseline. It is helpful to mention whether or not these fonts are free of copyright. This is so that any charter user can quickly obtain the fonts concerned with full knowledge of the matter.
- Colors used for the logo, clearly specifying the equivalents of the various colorimetric modes (CMYK, RGB, LAB, Pantone, # hexadecimal, etc.). Different color modes are used for different applications and media (web, print, etc.). So you need to plan ahead for color correspondences. But beware: there’s no such thing as a perfect match!
- Colorimetric variations of the logo in 1 or 2 colors (for marking objects or faxes, for example) or in grayscale (for black prints), etc.
- Rules for using logos and baselines: logo construction, use on light/dark/heterogeneous backgrounds (e.g. photography), minimum size for good visibility, exclusion zone or protected area/clearance area (margin around the logo must be respected).
- Examples of prohibited uses: modification of logo construction, change of colors, enlargement without respecting proportions, etc.
2 – Typefaces
This section must include the typefaces used for writing all communication materials. These may be totally different from the typography used in the logo. Once again, it’s helpful to specify whether or not the typefaces are copyright-free.
Providing for more “classic” substitutions is also a real plus. Some fonts may not be installed on all workstations, while others may not be available for certain uses (e.g. e-mail client texts). With a defined typographic correspondence, communications still retain a certain consistency. A common example is using Arial instead of Helvetica.
3 – Color chart
This part of the graphic charter references all the colors likely to be used frequently, forming part of the company/brand identity. This enables each employee and/or service provider to quickly find the correct color references and ensures consistency in creating various internal and external communication media.
A detailed chart will also specify the CMYK, RGB, LAB, Pantone, # hexadecimal equivalents, etc. of each shade, according to the company’s needs in terms of media use and purpose.
4 – Other identity elements
It’s not uncommon for communication materials to incorporate other elements regularly: a frieze, geometric shapes or symbols specific to a particular service, etc. If these elements are repetitive, they can form an integral part of a brand’s or company’s identity. We therefore need to charter their use to maintain a certain visual consistency.
Variations in communication media
Once the main elements of a visual identity have been defined, it’s possible to create all kinds of communication media. The brand’s or company’s graphic charter can specify the construction and layout details of the most recurrent documents. Take correspondence materials, for example:
- Business cards (85 x 55 mm).
- Correspondence cards (210 x 100 mm).
- Letterheads and letter layouts.
- Flap folders.
- Company stamp.
- E-mail signatures.
It is possible to specify other media in the charter, depending on the frequency of their use in the company, such as wallpapers or exterior signage for premises and vehicles (flags, window stickers, adhesive covering, paint), press releases and files, PowerPoint presentations, etc.
For each medium, it’s essential to detail the layout: format, margins, colors and typefaces used. It’s also helpful to specify text size, line spacing and inter-lettering, and paragraph characteristics so that any graphic designer or DTP operator can redo the document on request, following the instructions.
If specific, printing characteristics can also be included in the charter. This may mean the use of a special printing technique or special paper (creative paper, solution-dyed, recycled or FSC-certified, special grammage, etc.), for example. These details include the particularities of finishing: matte or gloss lamination, specific die-cutting, selective varnish printed form, etc.
Since visuals complement textual information with significant impact, the images and photographs used in any communication medium can enhance or detract from the meaning of the messages conveyed.
In some instances, we can develop the principle of choosing the images used in the charter. This helps to maintain a certain consistency between different media. The company then describes the iconographic guidelines it wishes to follow: specific framing, depth of field, light and contrast, signifier and signified, themes and content represented, use of images in media, etc.
This section can also be an opportunity to recall the company’s or brand’s core values and keywords often used in communication materials or evoked in visuals.
It’s essential to think of the graphic charter as a working tool in its own right. This document defines the “visual identity standards” to be respected (like a set of specifications). It should enable any graphics professional to take over the design of communication tools. In this way, a complete graphic charter ensures quality work and consistency across all media. It is indispensable for brand image and awareness.
There are no solid and fast rules for creating a graphic identity. In fact, the various elements to be evoked must be chosen according to the needs of the company or brand. While the “main” elements are essential (logo, colors, etc.), there’s no need to charter a press release or a poster template if communication via these media will be rare! We’re talking here about typical, recurring communication tools that will be used over time.
The design of the “Graphic Charter” document is the final phase in the creation of the brand identity. It is therefore often overlooked as unimportant in view of the financial and time investments already made. This misguided habit calls for reflection: a well-designed charter will save considerable time and visual consistency in the future (and a significant comfort for all the graphic designers who will work on your media ☺)!
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Need to revamp or complete your visual identity? Send us a message, and we’ll be happy to discuss your project together. 🙂