Plagiarism in the corporate branding guidelines

The case of plagiarism in corporate branding guidelines
Photo by Gui Neto

Helping enterprise clients includes reading a lot of corporate branding guidelines. These are lengthy documents with instructions about the usage of company’s logos, typography, and permitted colours. The idea is to ensure that a company’s communication media, products, and packagings convey a unified message and gut feeling to their customers. Branding instructions are very through and comprehensive. A branding guideline is often outsourced to be written by a design and branding agency. It is an expensive service to buy. Once written, it is strictly enforced by the branding department within an organization.

Unfortunately we have been noticing a problematic trend: some of these guidelines have been directly including chapters of iOS and Android official usability guidelines. One of them had literally copy-pasted the chapters from the iOS5 and iOS6 usability guidelines on toolbars, buttons, actions, etc. without any proper citation or link-backs.

I guess the agency had to somehow justify the fees they were charging. The other problem is that the iOS and Android usability guidelines change with every new release a mobile operating system. Branding guidelines don’t get updated as often and yet they are strictly enforced. Which means once both platforms have moved on to flat designs and different navigation patterns, the clients are still required to comply with their out of date guideline and ask for round and embossed buttons with drop shadows or round corner sections in their apps. Imagine you are developing an app for the iOS7 and the branding guideline says that the app has too look like something in iOS6 or older!

The lack of understanding of the native differences between iOS and Android environments is also another issue. The authors of the branding guidelines seem to cherry pick elements of both operating systems and make them part of their client’s brand.

This isn’t right. I just wish that branding agencies were more ethical and familiar with the technical aspects of user interface design. I also wish that the branding police in organizations were more flexible while enforcing these guidelines considering that these documents can be far from perfect and should be treated as such.