Guidelines: I’m never going to give you up

Time to celebrate the beautifully imperfect guideline rollout.

Sometime last century when I was at art school and Rick Astley was celebrating his first number one, I visited Wolff Olins on the premise of securing a work placement.

I was nearly put off graphic design for life!

Why? Because the very kind, enthusiastic designer who met with me proudly showed me a dozen bursting Lever Arch folders, hot off the press, containing Midland Bank’s (now HSBC) mammoth new guidelines. He told me they had taken 3 years to design. I could literally see the dust settling on these folders as they lay unopened on a CEO’s top shelf.

Although superbly designed and, I imagine, beautifully executed around the country, I didn’t want to spend 3 years of my life creating something so wonderfully dull. I was after fun, energy, colour, craft and joy. I wanted to make design that popped and sizzled, I wanted to design things people really wanted, I wanted to make posters for the underground that were stolen, I wanted to work with the best photographers and illustrators and make things that burst with ideas and were exquisitely simple in execution. I didn’t want much – but I knew instantly what I didn’t want to do as a designer.

Jumping 30 years ahead, NB Studio and ironically Michael Wolff, had just been commissioned by one of the most enigmatic, entrepreneurial visionaries I have ever met: Gregory Rockson, the co-founder and CEO of mPharma. He wanted an Africa in good health, but the drug supply chain was broken and pharmacies were struggling to stock life-saving medicine.

A world where a mother has to choose between medication or education for her child is inexcusable. By the time the middle man had taken their margin, patients in Africa were being charged three times as much as people in developed countries for the same drugs.

mPharma was shaking up the African healthcare industry. Gregory and his co-founder’s vision was beautiful, simple and clear – our job was to create a brand identity that stood out in Africa and gave confidence and reassurance to every African who needed safe and affordable medicine.

We created the flower, which represents equality, beauty and evokes a sunny disposition. Our palette was kept simple; orange, yellow and white. The strap line – ‘In Good Health’ – was handwritten and accompanied by a few simple illustrations. The imagery shows real people and the language is clear, concise and reassuring.

Our identity is blunt and to the point, but it welcomes you with open arms and avoids the complex language associated with prescriptions.

Skip another 5 years and mPharma is well on the way to building Africa’s largest support network for retail pharmacies, driving up standards and driving down prescription costs for patients.

Personally, what I love seeing everyday are Gregory’s posts on LinkedIn when he has opened another pharmacy somewhere in Africa. What I love even more is the beautiful imperfection on how the brand identity is being rolled out – the dynamic kerning, multiple uses of the flower and type in all directions. My graphics sensibility should be in overdrive, but my absolute joy in seeing peoples lives being made better with a little help from NB’s positive branding overrides any graphic design aggravation. So what if the minutiae of our guidelines are not observed and there’s an extra added whoosh of orange and the kerning follows the shape of the building. I’ve always believed when creating guidelines that the clue is in the name – a guide.

My final thought to all designers and brand managers is don’t sweat the small stuff, actual impact is always so much more important. And always remember when designing guidelines – “Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you, Never gonna make you cry, Never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you”.

Or as our client would say…

“Our world is too beautiful for us to give up on our dreams for it. When we bring like-minded people together through our vision, nothing can stop us.”
Gregory Rockson