Corporate Identity: Software ousts heavy reading: Huge redesign manuals may soon be unnecessary

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THE MASSIVE manual that comes with every new corporate identity programme is often its tombstone. Produced in order to guide employees' implementation of the programme, it often lies unread and unloved.

Most of those who receive the tome - or, often, a series of tomes - find that only a tiny portion of its information applies to them. And yet these encyclopaedic rule-books, which often need to be printed specially, are expensive to produce.

Tony Key, BT's design director, has manuals on the implementation of the company's corporate identity that occupy a yard of shelves in his office. Whatever one may think of BT's red and blue piper motif, the implementation of the new image has been near flawless in its speed, thoroughness and high standard of execution. However, this is attributable more to Mr Key's strong guiding hand than to any particular diligence on the part of BT staff in studying the manuals.

British Gas may make a break with the corporate tome when it, too, changes its public identity later this year. Its appointed consultants, Coley Porter Bell, will have a choice between producing traditional manuals and taking the paperless route.

Hoskins Associates, a company that emphasises the less immediately obvious aspects of corporate identity, has teamed up with Monotype Typography and Fontware, two suppliers of computerised typefaces, to bring the identity manual into the computer age. The result, Precedent, is claimed to be the first widely offered system for implementing corporate identity by using CD-ROM technology.

A handful of corporate identity guidelines are already distributed as software. Last year, British Airways adapted its instructions to CD-ROM. The leading corporate identity specialist, Wolff Olins, which created the BT identity, also provides some screen-based data for its clients. Such systems give employees and suppliers a limited ability to sort through the guidelines rapidly, to find those that are relevant to them.

Using Precedent, however, anybody within the company who has the use of a networked PC can access all the information needed, and is given an interactive explanation of how to employ it. 'It enables you to talk to each of your staff at the correct level,' Paul Hoskins says.

The software-based system can assimilate company changes more effectively and is well suited to multi-site organisations. With the ability to alter the rate of implementation of the corporate identity, companies may find that the periodic need for total overhaul of corporate identity, with its upheaval and vast costs, becomes a thing of the past.

Hoskins is working with BP on replacing the printed manuals with the computer-based system.

Even with this new technology it is still necessary to take steps to ensure that the right information reaches the right person, according to Chris Ludlow of the identity consultants Henrion, Ludlow & Schmidt. The CD-ROM systems, such as that now used by British Airways, require great skill in their preparation if they too are not to be ignored, he warns.

The implications are more wide-ranging for sophisticated systems such as Precedent. 'It calls into question the design management system,' Ludlow says. In some cases, for example in the production of simple printed materials, it could prove more sensible to program the computer directly to execute the job than to give instructions on a CD-ROM.

In other cases - vehicle liveries, special documents, or exhibition stands, for instance - this will not be possible. Then the paperless identity manual could come into its own.

(Photograph omitted)