Branding in general is a good thing. It gives your user/consumer a sense of "home," and a familiarity with your 'product.'
That being said...I think it can definitely be a pain in the arse. It's hard when working for a school, because you run into the problem of always feeling like you are rehashing the same thing over and over. You feel in a rut, and the ol' "IF I HAVE TO USE THIS SAME COLOR BLUE ONE MORE TIME...I AM GONNA KILL SOMEONE!!!!," feelings rise to the surface.
I just try to keep in mind that I AM working for a school, and that is just the ropes. It's actually kind of a fun challenge to see if you are able to make the "same ol'" cool again.
We have a branded look, with 2 main design types available in 11 color combinations. Users may also customize their banner image. Here's our Web Toolkit if you want to see samples. Within this framework we ask for consistency in type and menuing systems, but it still offers a good deal of flexibility. When sites are done right it is nice to wander through them and see the continuity on the one hand, but also the distinction of color and unique images on the other.
Our templates aren't .dwt files but regular HTML files and we don't use a CMS. This gives users the flexibility to modify what they need, but it also makes it possible for inexperienced users (and HTML pro's who think they know more about design than they do) to break things. It's a fine line to walk, but I prefer it to a look that is too rigid.
That said, some users still complain that we're not flexible enough. If I can meet with them we can usually work out their issues. I think sometimes they just feel confined by the rules, but the rules are usually not causing the problems they face. More often that not such sites suffer from poor organization and confusing menus. They seek solutions like wider pages that will hold more content, when a rearrangement of content within the current look would actually be more effective.
I had a boss who once told me that we have to be more creative when faced with restrictions. I think there is truth to that.
I'm now going through a major re-branding exercise in my organisation currently and I'm all for branding, but having just read marketing's corporate visual identity guidelines and realised that they have all been written for print with no real consideration for web is annoying.
We are in the beginning stages of redesigning out website. Branding is important but I also think it is important to have variation in that. A university web site is a hairy best different ideas and different walks of life and I think that it can be branded in a way that is consistent but varies. We have a CMS which we can offer different layouts and components for different sites with in the university grid.
This is my first week on the job and the first meeting was about Branding and creating a Marketing Media type kit with logos, letterhead, banners, etc.. When this is completed, I will make a webpage for it for everyone to use. Right now the Marketing & Public Relations office which I am in gets calls frequently for the school logo. What do others think? How important is Branding to a college or university?
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Cody Bryant is now a member of University Web Developers