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Ch 8: Defining Brand Applications – Business Collateral

While many applications of brand identity are specific to a particular organization, some applications of the brand identity are common in almost all companies and other organizations. This chapter provides examples of commonly-applied elements. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss additional elements that are not necessarily part of every brand identity system.

Business cards
Standard business cards are 2″ x 3.5″. The content of the card should make it easy for people to reach the person who “owns” the card. At the least, a card should contain a name and a phone number and/or email address. How much additional information belongs on the card is a matter of organizational need and preference.

Business cards can be plain and simple, or they can be marvelous miniature posters for an organization. If the organization can afford the printing cost, the back of the business card can become an exciting space for memorable design.

In your brand standards manual, explain the rules and specifications that apply to the type and copy that appears on each business card. Don’t waste your reader’s time telling what a card is used for. Some example of useful standards manual entries for business cards are available here (take a close look at p. 25) and here (see pp. 40-41).


First, a side note from Jason:

It’s time to air a grievance of mine… a personal pet peeve. As an educator, I do my best to teach at every opportunity. This is just such an opportunity. Here goes.

The word stationery has a homophonic partner: stationary. With an E, the word describes paper, envelopes and similar materials used to distribute written messages. With an A, the word means “remaining in one place.”

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the matter at hand– describing stationery in a brand standards manual.


Paper that measures 8.5″ x 11″ is certainly the most typical size used in the U.S. (though not worldwide). However, designers may want to consider that other paper sizes could be used as a distinctive brand element. A creative company might choose letterhead that uses a taller, thinner, shorter, or wider paper size. A unique paper size might be the best way to display a graphically unique logo.

Take into consideration, however, that odd sizes often require die cuts which cost extra for the company or client. Non-standard paper may require a non-standard, additional-cost envelope as well.

If the designer presents non-standard options to the client, he or she should be sure to point out the added benefits associated with unconventional sizes. (And if you can’t present any benefits other than “it’s different,” perhaps you should re-think your design strategy.) In any case, you probably should have a second, more cost-effective, approach in mind, too.

In your brand standards manual, you can document the rules for multiple acceptable approaches (just as you documented acceptable variations of the logo.) You can show a “best-case stationery solution,” for when times are good (or, if your client is a non-profit, when a donation of printing has been made). You can also include a “cost-effective stationery solution,” for situations where budget supersedes design desires.

If you’re documenting both “special” and “everyday” stationery types, specify the occasions or types of communications that would be appropriate for each type.

In your standards for letterhead, it’s best to use absolute values (inches or centimeters), because the letterhead will always be an exact size. Specify the size and location of each element: the logo, the company name, the “snail mail” address, etc. (See an example here, on p. 26, and here, on pp. 42-45.)

Most companies and organizations create one letterhead used by all employees in a organization (or all employees in a sub-unit like a department or division). With the exception of top executives in large organizations, it’s rare to include pre-printed employee names, email addresses, or direct phone numbers on letterhead. Those who use the stationery may include their personal contact information with their typed signature.

When the budget and the organizational personality permit, the back of the letterhead can become a designable space. Consider whether design on the reverse side of the letterhead would be a value-add for your organization or client. A great example of this is the letterhead for Cincinnati-based design agency Barefoot.

Specifying design of envelopes is different than specifying letterhead. Not all envelopes are made to hold the letterhead, and some organizations have multiple envelopes for different occasions and types of communication: event invitations, donor thank-you cards, large manila envelopes for manuscripts or catalogs, and long, thin envelopes for tickets are just a few examples.

If you’re designing envelopes, design elements can be created from the top-left corner or the bottom-left corner, and left open beyond that. Consider all possibilities that your company or client might need, from small (postcard sized envelope) to much larger (manila envelope ). Don’t forget to specify the color of the envelope if it’s important to the brand identity.

Another cost-effective option some companies use is a designed label that can be placed on a variety of postal packages.

As with other business collateral, the brand standards manual should provide all details needed to correctly prepare and print all needed envelopes or labels. Some good examples are available here (p. 26) and here (pp. 46-47)

Email signature
We’re all working in a digital communication age, and an increasingly popular extension of brand identity is a standard email signature– the items at the bottom of an email message that shows the sender’s name, position within the company or organization, and contact information, along with the company logo, and maybe even a tagline.

In designing and specifying the email signature, remember that different computers contain different fonts, and that out-of-the-ordinary fonts will be converted by each end-user’s computer to an available (but not always similar) font.

To maintain consistency in how email signature elements are viewed, you can convert that element to an image. Note, though, that the rasterized element will appear as an attachment to the email, and may be removed by web servers controlled by overly-strict IT managers.

To be safe, use web-safe fonts common to both Mac and PC computers. Common fonts can be found in online lists such as this one . [Note from Jason and Pam: we do not endorse the use of Comic Sans, no matter how many times it shows up on the list.]

Examples of brand standards manual descriptions for email signatures are here (p. 28) and here (pp. 48-49).

Website and other online presence
Online brand identity needs to be consistent with all other expressions of brand identity. This can include website look and feel, colors, fonts, favicons (defined in Designing Brand Identity as “a miniature storefront sign, presented in a 16 x 16 pixel icon located in the web browser address bar”) and even elements such as animation of roll-overs.

We’ll have more to say about this topic soon.

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