WordLab to Brandwares

Finally, the transition of 2 companies into 1 is complete. We began planning the merger more than a year ago. We started with rebranding WordLab to match Brandwares. With the completion of the process, all WordLab content has been folded into the Brandwares site. The aspect that has required the most detailed planning has been managing the SEO for both sites. Our goal was to ensure the summing of as much link juice as possible. I think we pulled it off. We’re getting more total hits now with one site than the 2 previous sites received separately.

Brandwares for Complete Workflows

Brandwares’ strengths have been in web development, especially math-intensive intranet applications for financial institutions. The angle that WordLab brings is a strong focus on desktop applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat. Combined, our new company can create and support complete workflows. These provide strongly branded information from every major software group in a company. This unified approach gives our customers both higher office productivity and stronger brand identity in every communication. I look forward to helping your company achieve exactly those goals.

Calculating RGB Tints

Theoretically, there is no such thing as RGB tints. Color theory uses “tint” as any lighter hue of a color. Often this will be explained as what happens if you mix a color with white, though anyone who has spent any time mixing colors has noticed that adding white pigment changes colors in other ways than simply making them lighter.

In the commercial art world, tint is nearly synonymous with screen, because the traditional way of creating lighter shades of a base color is to print it with a halftone screen.

Because of this tradition, brand guidelines often augment a base set of colors with a subset of pastels referred to as tints or screens. This all makes perfect sense in a print-oriented world. However, when you move into digital display color, there are no screens any more. So how do we interpret brand guidelines for RGB-only software like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and the web?

Brand guidelines now normally include RGB numbers for the base colors of a brand, but tints rarely have an RGB equivalent. The designer just specs 20% of PMS 286 and lets you figure it out.

A Calculator for RGB Tints

You can do it with Illustrator, but it’s a little roundabout. You create an RGB color, save it as a swatch, being sure to over-ride Illustrator’s efforts to keep turning it into CMYK. Then you can spec a percentage of the swatch and finally find out the RGB value of that percentage.

Or you can just use the handy dandy RGB Tint calculator on this very web site. Simply enter an RGB or hexadecimal color value, then the tint percentage, and you get an instant readout of the new color values along with a preview of the color appearance. In addition, it makes a useful RGB-hexadecimal convertor, though there are plenty of other ways to do that operation.

This is a tool we developed for our own template creation work, but you may as well get some use of it too. Enjoy!

Brand Guidelines for Office – Part 1

Brand guidelines are an essential part of establishing worldwide graphic standards for any large company. When they are done right, they’re an effective way to propagate the corporation’s standards to remote markets. Unfortunately, when they contain errors, those errors are almost impossible to correct in a systematic way.

Brand guidelines are a top-down or hierarchical means of propagating the corporation’s brand. One design firm sets the standard, the standard is approved by head office and then distributed to subsidiary designers. There are two weak points in this structure that can lead to branding errors, if not disasters.

The first weak point is at the graphics company that creates the standard. Brand guidelines are a lot of work and many hands are required to meet the deadline. All too often, tasks that are deemed “less important” are farmed out to junior designers and approval of their work can be perfunctory under pressure. Even when senior people are working hands-on with specifications, their familiarity with all the end uses of the guidelines can be hazy or rooted in old practices that are no longer relevant.

Vulnerability number 2 is at the approval stage by the client business. This is a yawning chasm, because there is often a huge knowledge gap between the designer and the client. More often than not, the client looks over the pages, gets all impressed and loses any sense of critical analysis of the content. If there are errors in the document, they are unlikely to get caught here.


Brand Guidelines must include RGB

One of the ways that I discern expertise in a design company is by how they specify RGB equivalents for the colors in brand guidelines. As with many aspects of the design world, color specification had its roots in defining standards for print applications. The dominant model was and is the Pantone Matching System and it’s poor brother in process color, the CMYK equivalent. PMS and CMYK numbers have been the main modes of color specification in brand guidelines for decades.

RGB equivalents to Pantone specs are relative newcomers to the party. They’ve really only become commonplace in the last 10 years. RGB colours are vital to web and mobile applications, but they are also the native color model for Microsoft Office. Even Adobe Acrobat, when queried as to the color of an element, reports back in RGB. Let’s face it, the digital realm is RGB and the digital realm is the future. So let’s get it right!

Getting it right sounds easy, but there is no universally accepted equivalence between Pantone or CMYK and the RGB color models. It’s notoriously difficult to compare monitors with ink swatches. Each software vendor has come up with their own conversion tables. Adobe provides swatches for 10 different versions of Pantone colors. Between coated vs uncoated, process vs solid and color bridge vs solid to process EURO, its amazing anyone gets any colors picked at all! The RGB numbers that you get out of these models is all over the map. I’ve seen blues that were supposed to resemble the rich deep blue of PMS 286 that looked more like a robin’s egg!


The RGB in Brand Guidelines Can’t be Invented In-House

Even worse is the plucky designer (I’ve spoken to more than one!) who tries to make up their own RGB colours by invented new combinations on their monitor. They either forget, or have never learned, that Mac displays and Windows monitors show very different results, and that in the Windows world, color uniformity is only a theoretical dream. The colors you pick on your Mac monitor are guaranteed to look different on your client’s PC.

Needless to say, this is a hazardous way to pick colors for your client’s web site and office documents. I’ve seen it too many times: a Pantone 486 that looks like salmon on the web, a Pantone 116 that comes out lemon in Microsoft Word. This is not a brand identity, this is brand suicide!

If anyone is listening, I’d like to suggest a solution that has worked well for my company and my clients: the Pantone Color Bridge swatch books and Pantone Color Manager software. It’s not that I’m an avid fan of Pantone, but I have found that the RGB values are, on average, across platforms and displays, closer to the appearance of printed PMS colors. It’s also a simpler process than trying to choose from a multiplicity of software color models.

With the books, there’s one for coated colors and another for uncoated and you have the reference swatch right in front of you while working. With the Pantone Color Manager software, you have access to all 11,000 Pantone colors and their RGB equivalents for a very reasonable price.

If you have a branding color horror story, or a suggestion for a superior RGB conversion table, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Best Practices

In the years I’ve spent creating great documents for companies, its become painfully obvious that the best practices are unknown to design professionals. Almost all of the files we receive as source material, whether they have been created by graphic artists or end user, are badly constructed and unreliable.

Best Practices are not about looks

I’m not talking about aesthetics. The documents created by artists are usually quite pretty. I’m talking about how well they are constructed. Most artist-created Office documents are like beautiful houses built on sub-standard foundations. It just takes a little tremor to make them crumble.

This is not the fault of the users or artists. There is no leadership from Microsoft or Adobe. There’s no awareness of this issue at educational institutions. There is some good information from the web community, but you have to seek it out and discern good from bad advice. This is why I have started this blog, to create a place for sharing proven best practices for document creation.

This will not be a hard and fast set of rules. There are always many ways to solve problems and I’m always discovering new creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems, both through my own work and by looking at the work of others. My guiding philosophy is to always picture the end user. What will make their life easier? How can I create a document that will be so easy to use and bullet-proof, it disappears? Disappears in the sense that it becomes a conduit for the user’s efforts instead of an impediment to their work.

I hope you will find this journal useful and informative. I hope it will let you work better. And I hope it will remind you to always look at your work from your clients or users point of view.