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Effective branding relies on the consistency of all the touchpoints your audience has with your company. Design heavily influences the customer experience and ensures that your customers (and potential customers) receive the same message at any given touchpoint.
It’s confusing to receive mixed signals from a company, and challenging to understand the messages they are sending. Inconsistencies won’t make anyone trust you or like you. Design audits help ensure everything is consistent and on point.
What is a Design Audit?
A design audit is essentially a visual brand checkup. It’s performed to make sure that the company is visually expressing itself consistently across all channels. This means their website and TV ads but also their social media, presentations, and sales collateral too! During an audit, a designer will gather and review all branded materials. That’s why it’s vital to look at everything, not just the website.
A full brand audit will also make sure that the messages and verbal or written communication is consistent too. Brand audits include all aspects of the brand not just the visual stuff. So, it’s not only that the everything has a consistent look, but also a consistent tone, voice, and message too.
Why Should You do a design (or brand) audit?
It’s a good sign when a client requests an audit because it means a company is growing and expanding. It also says the branding and company image is important to them.
You’d request an audit when you’re noticing a lot going on and teams starting to veer off into their own, slightly different directions causing inconsistencies. It could be little things at first; that’s a great time to catch one. Because over time, when unchecked, it could get gnarly. Simply put, companies grow. You want to keep your branding on point because a professional, consistent look builds trust and recognition.
An audit will allow your company to realize what’s being messed up and correct it.
How to Conduct a Design Audit
First things first, you must gather everything. Every single peice of branding collateral a company is creating. Yup, that’s going to be a lot of stuff for larger corporations, however, for smaller companies, a single designer should be able to handle it all.
I am also serious when I mean everything:
- Style guides and the design system
- Website pages
- Logo in all formats
- Facebook ads, banner ads, all the web ads
- Radio, Tv or print ads
- Flyers, business cards, stationery, email signatures
- Landing pages, marketing campaigns, and their collateral
- Promotional products
- Uniforms and other garments
- Classes, workshops, presentations, promotional speaking engagements
- Posts from the media including stories
- Original design files vs. what’s live right now
Additionally, include both things that are already scheduled to be released and works in progress to get a more accurate look.
Once you have everything gathered, take a step back and have a look at look at all the assets as a whole. It will give a better perspective as you’re getting started.
Looking For What’s Out Of Place.
An audit can be as simple as looking for inconsistencies, flaws or just outright improper designs in use against the brand direction. Let’s consider a website as an example.
Look through the whole website, big or small. Consider the following questions:
- Is the navigation always the same?
- Is the same logo file always used across assets?
- Are the background patterns consistent? The background styles?
- How is the mobile design? Is it accessible and usable? Does it too follow branding guidelines?
- Are the icons all from the same set?
- Do similar sections adhere to the same design conventions and styles?
- Is the typography the same throughout?
- Are the popups and hello bars in alignment with the branding?
- How do the landing pages stack to the main website? Do they adhere to branding guidelines? Do they use the correct logo and colors?
Do this until you cover every design aspect of the website. For a more in-depth brand audit, you would include a review of voice, tone, and message!
Analyzing Your Marketing
Similar to the website, you’ll also want to look at your print and social marketing because both are such an essential extension of your brand.
Some questions to ask include:
- Are the messages expressed in social media aligned?
- Is the wording consistent across platforms with brand guidelines?
- Are the images portraying our message?
- Are you creating content that is an extension of your brand’s values?
Design Audit Results.
After completing an audit, your designer(s) will provide a detailed report. In it, will be an assessment of what is “on brand” (being done right) and what is “off brand” (what is being done wrong) and how to make adjustments and corrections.
It can be eye-opening for business owners to see how inconsistent the branding is. You want to give yourself as much time and as many resources as possible to go ahead and fix the issues.
After reviewing the audit, let the number of inconsistencies dictate the best course of action. If it happens to be just a few things here and there – great – address them right away. Improve your style guide and instruct your teams where these inconsistencies occur on how to prevent this from happening again.
A Style (Guide) Upgrade
If the mess is substantial in size, it would be best for your designer to update the off-brand pieces within their design system. If your brand style guide is out-of-date, then you should take this time to update it as needed.
If you don’t have a style guide at all, then you must create one so that branding can be consistent moving forward and assets and requirements readily available to every team and every employee. Make sure everyone understands the different brand assets, from logo usage to the right kind of wording and adheres to it from now on.
Go the extra mile and put a system in place by regularly adding to the design system/style guide so that as new needs arise, they can be easily managed.
A Whole New Branding System
Lastly, if the inconsistencies are massive, it might be a good idea to consider a rebrand and a redesign. This way the company can get on the same page about its messages and visuals. If there are significant variations in designs, a redesign might be the fresh start that is desperately needed. It’s an excellent opportunity to redefine or refine company values and positioning. It’s also an opportunity to create a new design system for every team to use from now on as well.
A design audit can be invaluable in keeping a brand on track. It’s there to help make sure the company’s communication is what it needs to be, at all times. It’s there to help you ensure your branding is as strong as possible.