Brand Identity + Graphic Design
The Power of Style Guides
November 15, 2018 • 6 min read
What Is A Brand Style Guide?
A style guide is a set of standards for the design of documents and any other form of brand identity elements. It is a reference tool that supports consistency by showing how a brand should look, feel and sound.
Why Style Guides Are Important
Consistency is key to building a memorable brand. Style guides ensure brand consistency throughout any collateral you produce—no matter who creates it: customer service, marketing, design or sales.
Consistency Is Key To Building Your Brand
Top brands stick in our minds because they define their presence by repeating their logo, fonts, colors, and images. Over time, they become recognizable as the brand, creating a sense of reliability and security. Inconsistency weakens your brand image, makes your company look unprofessional, and hurts conversion rates and revenue.
The number one goal of a style guide is consistency among the various elements that, when combined, create a recognizable brand. With a brand style guide in place, everyone should understand what the brand is and how to use it in the work they do.
Following a style guide allows new work be as near to a final version as it can be. The reduction in the time spent on revisions, in editing, and giving corrections cuts the costs of operating.
Depending on your business you may need one, or several, different guides. There are a variety of style guides:
- Design style guides
- Writing style guides
- Engineering style guides
Strong and consistent branding is a vital foundation for improving brand recognition, awareness, and loyalty. Every time you reinforce your brand in the customer’s mind you improve the likelihood they will think of you when it is time to buy.
Parts Of A Visual Style Guide
Your logo is the foundation of your visual identity. You need it to be consistent wherever it’s displayed. Use your style guide to show proper logo use and acceptable variations. It’s a good idea to take this time to show how not to apply the logo.
Type is a large part of any collateral you make. Consistency in your typography supports your brand and helps project a sense of professionalism. Give explicit rules for what typefaces are acceptable and guidelines for alternative styling, size, and color.
In your style guide, show swatches of your brand colors. Make sure to include the information needed to reproduce those colors wherever your brand message appears. Choose four or fewer main colors and avoid straying from the hues of your logo.
Color is represented in a number of ways depending on where it is used:
- Print: CMYK
- Digital: RGB and HEX code
- Product creation: PANTONE name and number
From Pantone color numbers to CMYK blends and RGB or HEX values, colors can shift from designer to designer or program to program. Defining colors avoids any ugly surprises and saves both time and money.
Need some color palette inspiration? Check out these online resources for ideas:
You may also be interested in this great piece on the psychology of color on Jen Reviews: Color Meaning, Symbolism, And Psychology: What Do Different Colors Mean.
Photography can be a vital part of a brands visual identity. If it is an important part of yours, you should include it in your guide for any photographers you work with to reference.
You can approach this in a few different ways. If you have them, show images that have performed for your brand in the past. Don’t have your own examples? Go aspirational—find examples from big brands that you like. Or create a mood board of images that convey the feelings you want people to have when they think of your brand.
A quick search on Pinterest for “brand style guide” offers lots of inspiration.
Supporting graphics help set your brand apart. Include them in your guide to make sure they are used to
Image guidelines should define when and how certain types of images are used. Will you use photography or illustrations or both? Will they be black and white or color? Is clip art use acceptable?
A brand’s voice is as important as the brand’s visual style. Your brand should sound and look a certain way. In an ideal world, you would have one person writing everything, but most of the time that’s impossible. Giving the writers you work with guidelines for how they should write about your brand will help avoid any instances of
You may want to create a separate style guide for writing. But it is good to provide a little guidance in the visual guide. Using a consistent and distinct tone can help clients and customers identify with your brand, and creates an association with what the brand stands for.
Simple is best. You might include particular words and phrases that you like and which words should be avoided. Be sure to include who you’re targeting and how it should sound. Think about words you want to be connected to—cool, trustworthy, hip, efficient, luxurious.
Other Things You Might Include
- Overview of the brand, history, vision, and personality
- Examples of letterhead and business card design
- If you sell physical products, you may need to include packaging guidelines
- Layouts and grids for print and web
- Specifications for signage and outdoor advertising
Every brand, from the smallest website or startup to corporate giants need a set of branding guidelines. This document, which can range from a few pages to several hundred, shows your team how to stay true to your brand. To see how simple it can be, check out Medium’s branding guidelines.
Creating Your Style Guide
Every guide will be different as your brand style guide should reflect your organization. You may find it useful to create an outline to help you decide the structure of your guide. Use the six points laid out above, along with any business-specific needs, to create your outline.
Your brand style guide is a living, breathing document. You can add to or adjust it as you learn what works. Well-defined and maintained style guides allow you to present your brand clearly and to establish trust with your audience.
Plan to revisit your style guide from time to time. Depending on your business and how fast you evolve this could be every month, quarter or year. Make the process easier by keeping ideas in one central place as they occur.
Many businesses avoid creating a style guide because of the time involved. But a style guide is essential to building your brand identity consistently—especially when you have several people developing content for your brand. It’s important to spend the time and resources to create these invaluable documents.