Corporate 'Industrial Design Guidelines'

I am the first industrial designer at my company. I am creating a corporate ‘Industrial Design Guidelines’ for the Company. This is to include but not limited to: aesthetics, colors, graphics, ergonomics, packaging, etc. This is a daunting task. Does anyone have ‘Industrial Design Guidelines’ that I could use as a template/inspiration?


AKA: Visual Brand Language (VBL), Style Guide (or in our case) Experience Guidelines.

Ziba did a great one for KitchenAid. They don’t offer the actual document, but there’s some juicy process detail:

Here’s one of my favorites: Scott Wilson/IDEO for 3Com:

Interesting, I just had to do the same thing. It’s been a year since I wrote it and I still find things that I need to add. I had a background in writing and establishing standard operating procedures, (SOP’s) but it was still a heck of a task. Just remember to treat it as a living, breathing animal that evolves and adapts to changing environments. You have to establish some rules that you always follow and never stray from, but other things should be a little more fluid. This will help you as the only industrial designer, to keep from being side-tracked by those who don’t understand what you do. I’m sure mine is far from perfect, but here are some things to think about.

  1. Brainstorming sessions. Establish rules for how to prepare, conduct, and who participates.

  2. How you prove ideas that come from a brainstorming session.

  3. How you construct a design brief, and who approves it.

  4. The creation and components of tech packs.

  5. Formats for update meetings, with whom, and how often.

  6. File management. How you plan on organizing all your files (digital and physical).

  7. Research methods.

  8. Establish a design process. Chances are that you won’t be the only industrial designer for ever, and you’ll need to plan for expansion. Young designers should know exactly what they need to do, and your boss should know that you have an established process.

  9. Dealing with factories and overseas manufacturers. This might be above your level, but if your company doesn’t have an established guideline, it can cause problems.

  10. Sample review process. How to evaluate product samples, how many samples you require before going to production, and how to comment back to factories.

You may have to create forms for tracking these items (sample tracking sheets, timelines, communication logs, design briefs, research forms, etc.). You might also require that factories use the same forms when communicating with you. This will help you and the factories keep everything straight.

Hope this helps.

cg, I have always felt those “style guides” were a bit of eye candy. I’m not sure how much they would help another team of individuals to do product extensions. I’ve been in the process of doing one myself though for my team.

Third North, good list! I would add to that initial and final concept design reviews. IE, at what point does an initial concept review happen, who is there, and what is the scope of their feedback? At what point do you have a “Final design review” where someone with authority decides to move to more expensive prototyping and engineering phases? Also, make sure that design has authority at every stage, having input on all revisions, packaging, brand executions etc…

I think they can be great for teamwork, especially on product extensions where a certain DNA needs to be captured. Think of it more of a mood board than a set of regulations.

But not all VBL Guides are made the same. Some are 100 page documents with rules and constrictions that no-one reads or understands -except if someone is trying to use the book to win an argument.

The better ones are short, visual and inspirational. If done correctly they can help rather than hinder, and provide a springboard for new ideas. The IDEO/3Com example cg showed is great. You can flick through it and walk away with a general sense of the visual language, and know where to find more detailed info when necessary.

Yo, I disagree, done right like these two examples, they’re incredibly useful.

Too often companies fail to recognize what their design Principles or Signature Elements are, and they loose brand equity with new product design that fails to utilize them. Too often designers are eager to go their own way, rather than look for ways to leverage and build upon brand equity.

I was just thinking about this yesterday when considering the newest Apple iPod Shuffle. The new one has the fewest signature elements of any iPod. I think this is a step back for them in terms of brand equity building.

Not only that, the iPod shuffle uses the form from the previous generation Apple products. If it wasn’t so tiny, it would look like a copy-cat.

you can also google “tone and manner” documents which are advertising guides for PR, ads and other graphics. They’re more verbal, but you can take the same process of translating brand values into 3D visuals…

These documents can be great, but the trick is to leave them open enough to set the tone and general feel you want, but not lock everything down so the document is usable and evolves with the product and line extensions. Give future designers the constraints needed to focus their efforts, but freedom to explore within those constraints. It should be a helpful tool in the process, not a necessary evil.

These documents can be particularly useful to establish some basic boundaries for different brands within one company and/or hierarchies within a brand to visually distinguish one family from another.

Ideally, you would also want to get leadership buy-in from all interested functions, so that when you have stated that, ie “all primary interaction control buttons will be an elastomer button housed in satin nickel plated die cast zinc bezels” you can enforce it your standards or atleast have the leverage to arrive at an agreeable alternative when your marketing person or engineer says to make it all molded plastic, and lose the bezel, or what have you.

Exactly why doing it right means setting up foundations before specifying the actual signature elements. I think Ziba’s Strategic Pyramid does this really well in the example I posted. This would allow you to easily modify signature elements for different lines, while retaining the principles and positioning of the business.

The IDEO example (while super cool) lacks these foundations, perhaps one reason we never saw 3Com embrace it…

has anyone used “value opportunity analysis” as a prequel to a VBL guide?
or even within a project?

No, but we have been asked a few times. It’s a typical large corporate reaction because they need some numbers to decide whether it will be worth it.

Fortunately we’ve always managed to persuade them to do a postmortem instead; to evaluate the potential/actual brand recognition gain once we’ve made the design proposals. Otherwise it could be very difficult to get them to go with the project at all, even with a positive VOA in place.

Well, Amazon could have used one on the second Kindle, that is for sure. They could have built on the unique look with a better designed, more holistic product… s

Setting up VBL guidelines can be very tricky. One one hand you dont want to chain your designers, on the other hand it is a minimum standard that defends against poor designers. Your VBL guide is only as strong as your weakest designer.

In my experience with VBLs I have tried to give flexibility to the design team, there are invariably requests for signature elements. I hate signature elements because they lead to lazy design. Would the product still embody the brand DNA without the specifics? The poor designers tend to sprinkle the signature elements everywhere. If you took them away there is nothing in the general proportions or the surface language to tell you the brand or its values.

One example that has always stuck out to me was a Rolls Royce competition by the BBC program Top Gear. When the Rolls Royce designers judged the concepts, they ignored each and every grille- which is a strong design element for the brand. They judged the proportions and stance of the rest of the form to pick their winners. That rule has stuck with me since my teens.

In setting up the VBL it would help your better designers to have a “why” page. The reasons for the surface language choice, and that could probably give your team a wide area to play in and still be true to DNA. You will also need a series of hard points or signature elements that will help your designers when they are applying the language to their specific product.

Pick a series of morphologies. Design a VBL around your most complex products and your most simple ones. Some design elements work better with certain scales and forms and you want to try and exercise it as wide as possible to find out what works across the board.

Good point! But there’s no reason why form & proportion can’t be specified as signature elements.

But I agree, it’s critical that you first build your strategy, positioning and principles.

Do you (or anyone else) know what episode that was?

And while we’re on the subject - I vaguely recall seeing an episode of Top Gear where 2 designers - Jag and Aston - sketched a car (well, simple sideview on whiteboard) in the studio. Anyone remember what episode that was?

I presume you’re specifically talking about the approach listed in “Creating Breakthrough Products?”

They actually show examples of it being applied to an entire brand (Starbucks) and specific products (GoodGrips, Crown Wave, Motorola Talkabout), so yes it’s possible to do it both ways.

I’ve always done VOA, but usually in the form of a 2D map (ie. 2x2 matrix) and I always map present and desired state, so I don’t call it VOA, I call it “targeting.”

Their approach is nice because it includes so many variables. But I tried it once, and found that it assumes all the variables are of equal importance–that’s certainly not true in my market! What you really need is a weighting factor. It also doesn’t provide a nice way to show desired targeting/future-state.

I thought that the examples in the book are “post-mortems” I’ve never heard of it being used to actually originate guides…

Your system sounds much simpler, lower left being the current state - upper left being the desired goal and the other two being mistakes

or are all 4 quandrants varieties of end state that the emphasis along the 2 axis changes?

Guidelines should be as broad as possible leaving freedom to smart creative minds do what hey were trained to do. And I insist on the “smart” because these people have to take into consideration many things to build a product that follows the image of a certain company.

As a young designer, I always feel that too many guidelines are aggressive to our ego, which is not bad, but is a drag if you’re company’s keywords are prospective and innovation. No guidelines is not much of a good idea, especially if you have established marketing strategies and a branding purpose. You can have good results as much as no results at all, because your designer has been wondering around too many ideas and is now lost… somewhere.

I tend to use guidelines in that broad sense as well. I’m more concerned about the overall direction. If I want the collection to move toward the West, that doesn’t mean that there might not be great design opportunities to the North or South, but we are only interested in Westward ideas.

I think it is the difference between the design with a big “D” and a small “d”. Small “d” stuff is important, what radius is that, how does this go together… but the guidelines should help spell out some of the big “D” stuff, why are we making this and for who? What overall feel should a user get from it?..

For me, it is more of a text based document.