Talkback: Successful Higher Ed Branding for the Web

Hopefully, when I mention the words “branding” and “print” in the same sentence, every web developer out there reading this cringes.  So, with that in mind, how many of you have web branding guidelines that grew from print standards?  I hope the number is very few, but I suspect that there are a lot of hesitant hands in the air.  This post is more for you.  I don’t have an answer, and am more interested in what the feeling amongst you all is.

My question is this: How do you set up successful branding standards for the web?  My opinion is that there are three answers:

  1. You have a global university branding document that just sort of covers everything (sucky)
  2. You have a global university branding document that outline some exceptions for the web (better, but not great)
  3. You have a true web branding/style guide which helps direct your web site (best)

The reason I don’t think we see more of #3 is that it takes time and experience to develop such a document.  The need for one has only recently become really apparent, and frequently we lack a truly diverse and experienced staff base to write a good web branding guide.

I ask because it’s come up more than once that we shouldn’t use Times New Roman font, because the branding standard serif font is Goudy Old Style.  Naturally, the people recommending this have no clue about web safe fonts (nevermind how poor use of TNR as an alternative just makes your site look dated and scruffy).  Also, we have a number of guidelines regarding the exact proportions of our logo, and how it can’t be modified to a different shape.  Realistically, there’s no way we could just slap our two tone graphic on the site like a sticker and have it look good.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that one of the school colors is gold (basically yellow).  Oh how fun working with yellow is!

Obviously, web design requires certain artistic flexibility.  You have to be able to design your site, and that means you cannot be bound by all the chains of print.  Besides, print needs bounds because it’s limited in what it can do.  We are, in many ways, limitless.  Web and print are different monsters, through and through.  Trying to retrofit print standards is just going to stifle and choke your web site, and keep it from ever reaching its full potential.

So, talkback below.  What do you think makes a successful branding document for a university web site?  Who has the best?  How would you change yours?  Let’s brainstorm some best practices.

cc Talkback: Successful Higher Ed Branding for the Webphoto credit: Jolante

8 Responses to “Talkback: Successful Higher Ed Branding for the Web”

  1. Says:

    This post is very timely for me. We’re nearing the end of working with an outside firm on our university’s new branding campaign. While I’ve been fortunate enough to be an member of the Brand Marketing Taskforce, I’ve still felt the Web has been considered much of an afterthought through much of this process.

    We’re expecting to redesign our site to go along with this new initiative, but I’ve been thinking we’re going to have to take the new standards given to us and make a subsequent document for the Web. We’ll create new templates and standards that will be part of the overall branded family, but I’d imagine there will be some specifics that will have to differ from print.

    I’m very interested to read how others have approached this, and if you have documents you’d be willing to share with us.

  2. Says:

    Our visual design standards are mostly oriented toward print, but I’ve been working with our print folks to come up with standard adaptations for the web.

    Most successful so far has been our color standardization. We have standard Pantone colors that we use in print, but of course there’s no one-to-one correspondence between Pantone and RGB, so we were getting (in one case) four different versions of Pantone 201 on one page.

    The solution was to set up a set up test pages with the background set to the various RGB interpretations:

    We then asked everyone in the office to pull up the test and walked around with Pantone cards to determine which was closest to the color we wanted. For the rest of the colors, we figured out how the winning RGB value for Pantone 201 was derived, then used the same process to derive all the others. Here are the results:

    For fonts, we informally translate Warnock as Georgia and Vectora as Verdana or Tahoma. Need to get that in the official manual someday-but as we don’t allow our web contributors to change fonts when using our CMS, we don’t have many problems with strange font choices anymore.

    • Says:


      Do you mind if I ask what method for getting the hex values was the one that worked out the best for you?

      • Says:

        We ended up using the numbers from Photoshop:

        1. Create an image with the color mode set to “RGB Color/8-bit”

        2. Click on the fill color in the toolbar to open the color palette

        3. Click the “Color Libraries” button and choose your Pantone value, then click “Picker”

        4. You be able to see the translation into HSB, Lab, CMYK, and RGB and hex.

        The trick is starting your file in the right color mode. Our print guys like to work in CMYK/32-bit, but you’ll get a different hex code from a file with that color mode.

  3. Says:

    The key to getting people to follow the brand guidelines/rules is about explaining why the rules exist. If the document is all about typefaces and colors, it will simply place barriers and people will look for ways around them. But connect the dots between the strategy and the rules, and people will understand and respect them.

  4. Says:

    Thanks for the post and for sharing the useful information with us.

  5. Says:

    I have to admit Branding is everything in business, in order to start a good and profitable business you need to create your own unique and creative brand or identity. The brand that you created will boost your online and offline presence, when that happens more sales will be coming in to your business.

    I’ve known this site that helps and guides and individual or startup company on how to create your own unique brand that stands out from the rest. In less than a month, I assure you, you will start to experience great amount of success on your brand or business with the efforts you put in. Believe me, I’m one of the million that benefited from that site.

    Hope that helps.


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