1. Style Guide
20 minutesBy Canva Team

Creating a style guide: How-tos, templates, and tips

Learn all about creating a style guide that your creative team and collaborators can reference with ease. Elevate your style guide creation with useful tools, tips, and templates from Canva.
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What is a style guide?

A style guide is a document that contains all the creative do’s and don’ts of a specific brand. It acts as an all-in-one content creation resource for a company’s creative and marketing teams as well as for its external contributors such as freelancers and collaborators.

For a style guide to be useful, it has to provide the answers to all possible questions that a creative must have regarding the intended look and feel of your brand. It guides all the stylistic choices of all the creative advertising and marketing materials of your brand.

If a creative wants to know the recommended size and placement of a logo, the color combinations that you want associated with your brand, and even your preferred types of social media or marketing content, the style guide should be your go-to reference.

Draft your brand strategies with Canva Doc

A style guide acts as a go-to reference for your team to ensure brand-consistent content.

Style guide vs. brand guidelines

A brand style guide is often confused with brand guidelines, and indeed, on some occasions, they are one and the same. That’s because they both deal with brand identity representation and execution.

To differentiate the two, think of their intended usage. A style guide is meant as a reference for marketing and creative teams when they need to produce materials for a brand. Meanwhile, brand guidelines can act as a guide for the entire company on how to best represent the brand to its audience and stakeholders, in keeping with the brand identity.

In some cases, brand guidelines can also contain a style guide, showing how the brand identity is interpreted in various creative scenarios.

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Brand guidelines
Build brand guidelines to help with your style guide creation. Read Canva’s comprehensive guide for tips, tools, and more.

What a style guide is not

Building a brand and executing it has so many different moving parts, so it’s normal to confuse one aspect with another. To streamline your creation of an effective and useful style guide, understanding what it isn’t is just as helpful as knowing what it is.

Draft an overview of your company

A style guide contains the messaging and design aspects of your brand to keep your tone and visuals consistent across all materials.

It is not a brand messaging strategy

A brand messaging strategy is all about how your brand communicates when building a relationship with prospective and returning buyers. An effective brand messaging strategy not only encourages purchase but inspires brand loyalty. In a sense, you could look at the brand messaging and the brand style guide as two different but related interpretations of the overall brand guidelines.

It is not a brand kit

While a style guide focuses on both the visual and written aspects of brand content creation, a brand kit is solely dedicated to the visual side of a brand. It contains the actual files about your brand design, such as your logo, swatches of your primary and secondary color palettes, font combinations, and branded templates.

A way to differentiate the two is to think of a style guide as the recipe containing instructions, and the brand kit as the actual visual ingredients that creatives can use to follow and implement the style guide.

It is not a branded template

Branded templates can be a part of your brand kit as ready-made layouts showing the proper usage of your brand elements in certain scenarios, as outlined in your style guide. You can create branded templates for your social media, email and newsletter, company stationeries, presentations, and other documents.

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Create a Brand Kit
Keep all your brand elements in one convenient place with Canva Pro’s Brand Kit. Share with your entire team and empower them to create designs that are visually consistent with your brand.

Why does your brand need a style guide?

No matter how beautiful your brand design is or how unique your brand voice is, they will only register with your intended audience if they’re applied consistently in all your brand channels and materials.

To craft a brand that leaves an impact, you will want to equip your marketing and creative teams with a style guide that will help them create efficiently and consistently across all content and platforms.

Align your brand values with your visual styles

Create your style guide with Canva Docs and leverage its collaborative features to keep all your teams on the same page.

Brand recognition

Your brand is how you present your business to the world, and your brand style is one important aspect of that presence. If you want people to notice your brand, your style needs to stand out.

But, of course, you don’t want your business to just be a flash in the pan. Apart from creating a noticeable brand style, you’ll need to implement that style consistently and cohesively. Not only will this help people instantly recognize your brand but it can also translate to trustworthiness.

Essentially, engaging with your audience in a consistent and cohesive style sends a message that your business is reliable. Having a style guide is an effective resource to help you attain this with ease.

Seamless collaboration and unified output

Marketing and promoting a brand these days happen across multiple platforms and channels, involving various teams that often come from diverse backgrounds. While these are all boons to a brand’s overall creativity, having so many platforms and teams can result in confusion and chaos if not properly managed.

A style guide is, therefore, a crucial reference that keeps all teams and channels cohesive even if they’re working on different materials on different time zones.

As you grow and expand your brand presence, it’s important to adapt your brand element usages and update your brand style guide to anticipate the requirements of a channel you’re creating for. So even if you have entirely different teams managing your print marketing materials, social media, and YouTube channel, your brand will register as a cohesive whole.

On a practical note, you can also use your style guide as a handy reference for onboarding new team members.

Efficient quality checks and audits

Having a style guide is useful when you’re reviewing your brand performance and looking for ways to improve, change, or refresh. If you find that there are certain aspects of your branding that aren't quite working, reviewing how you’re implementing them across your channels could reveal what might be lacking.

Using your style guide for this purpose allows you to audit more efficiently without having to resort to guesswork. A style guide is also a nifty reference that anyone in your team can use for monitoring your content in real time.


What to include in a style guide?

A brand style guide is all about the look and feel that your brand gives off. The visual aspect is a significant part of it, but so is your brand story and the voice in which it is told. Depending on your own branding requirements, here are some elements your style guide needs to have to be a useful resource for your teams.

An example of a brand style guide

This sample style guide presents the brand’s logo, typography, and color palette.

The brand story of a business is a quick but emotionally compelling narrative of how it came to be. In the telling of the brand story, the mission of the whole enterprise should be clear. It is from the brand story, and the mission stated within, that the style guide takes its cue.

In a sense, the brand story acts as the north star for the entire style guide. It clarifies the purpose and goal of every creative decision that the style guide aims to solidify.

From the brand story, you can also glean two crucial concepts that will likewise influence the direction of a style guide: the brand personality and user/buyer personas.

Brand personality is a key concept in marketing, the most popular framework of which was developed by Jennifer Aaker(opens in a new tab or window). It contains 15 different traits across five core dimensions. Determining your brand personality is a very beneficial exercise that could help you gain focus on creating your unique style guide.

Brand personality framework

Brand personality framework (source(opens in a new tab or window))

One helpful way to determine your brand personality is to come up with your brand’s buyer persona. A buyer persona (also known as a customer persona or user persona) is a sort of avatar of your ideal buyer. You can bring one to life by identifying your target audience’s demographic, aspirations, and pain points. With these details, you can craft your content in a way that addresses their needs in a voice that reflects their own.

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Create a buyer persona
Get to know your audience better by researching and creating a buyer or user persona for each segment. Get started by editing any of these user persona templates by Canva.

Also known as a design style guide, the visual style guide breaks down the design aspects of a brand. The most basic will include a logo style guide section, your brand fonts or brand typography, color palette, imagery style which may or may not include both illustration and photography, and video styles.

Below are key components you might want to include in this portion of the style guide:

Logo

The logo is a symbolic representation of a brand. Under this item, you should include a quick summary of the philosophy behind the logo, plus guidelines on how and where to use it. You could also include different acceptable iterations. For instance, Toms’ logo style guide(opens in a new tab or window) includes the official abbreviated logotype.

An example of a Master Logo

Toms’ style guide includes both the brand’s master logo and abbreviated logo.

Typography

Choosing fonts for a brand(opens in a new tab or window) is intentional. It’s not just about how cool or readable a font is; your font choice should help you convey your message even with a simple glance. Under this item in your style guide, you should identify your primary font and secondary font, as well as the acceptable font weights for each.

Color palette

Your brand color palette(opens in a new tab or window), much like your brand typography, can help you communicate at a glance. With color psychology into play, it can also influence your audience’s behavior toward your brand.

In this style guide section, a good practice would be to identify your primary palette, secondary palette, and recommend combinations of the two. Some brands like to rename each color to show or illustrate what each represents about the brand.

To help your designers and publishers achieve the exact hue with ease, you might want to include the RGB, Hex, and CMYK codes. One example of this is Tom’s page on brand color palettes, which includes primary and secondary colors with codes.

An example of a brand color palette

Toms’ style guide has the RGB, Hex, and CMYK codes for the brand’s color palette.

Imagery

Your brand imagery encompasses your iconography, photography, and illustration style. Your iconography can be as simple as having one or two distinct icons, or as detailed as having web-specific elements (buttons, navigation bar, 404 page).

For your photography and illustration style preferences, include a quick description of the style and how it reinforces your brand personality. Go into more detail by adding actual examples that illustrate your preferred styles. Case in point: Canva’s photography and film(opens in a new tab or window), and illustration(opens in a new tab or window) style guides.

The writing portion of a brand style guide is all about how your brand uses words or text to communicate with your target audience. Below is a rundown of some key components you can include in your writing style guide (also known as content style guide or editorial style guide):

Baseline writing style guide

There are several writing style guides available out there, the most popular of which are the AP Stylebook(opens in a new tab or window) and the Chicago Manual of Style(opens in a new tab or window). Any of these external writing style guides are useful as reference when creating your own style guide.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to include your baseline style guide in its entirety when creating your own style guide. You can simply link to it in your document as a comprehensive reference for your team, and highlight a few features that will directly serve your content creation.

Grammar, spelling, punctuation

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are typically the items that you would adapt from your baseline writing style guide. To make this portion less confusing, you could include actual use cases and examples illustrating each point.

As you implement your writing style guidelines, issues and questions over consistency will surely arise among your content creators. This is great as it can lead your style guide towards specificity. For this, you can use the frequently asked questions (FAQ) format to address specific grammar questions.

Brand voice

Your brand voice will depend largely upon the brand personality you want to project, which as we’ve established is largely influenced by your target audience.

To better guide your writers in your brand voice, include a description of your writing goals and principles. Show how these help you fulfill your brand mission. To give an example, Canva’s messaging framework(opens in a new tab or window) is clear and concise about its guidelines on wording, sentence structure, and tone of voice.

With your brand voice in place, you can determine your word choice and sentence length. You could even include whether you prefer contraction or not, how you write your headlines and how many exclamation points are too many for your brand.

Word list

Your writing style guide word list can contain your preferred spellings of typically contested words. You can adapt these from your baseline style guide and from your own audience preference. Some brands include words to use sparingly and words to avoid.

Stylization and formatting

Under this item, you can specify how you format your titles, subtitles, and captions. You can also include how you spell out attributions and designations and other items you think might be relevant to the type of content you create.

Approved and unapproved resources

In this section, you can point your writers toward resources that they’re allowed to use to help you maintain your content’s integrity. You can likewise list here your preferred online dictionary, grammar and spelling check tool, and other writing tools and resources.

In this portion of the style guide, you can showcase the guidelines you’ve established in action. You can weave these into the visual style guide section or writing style guide section, or devote a separate unit so that you can be as detailed as you want.

Do’s and don’ts

Do’s and don’ts are best included as concrete examples of certain rules and guidelines. You will often see them incorporated in the logo section or grammar section of a style guide.

Language and design inclusivity

A brand’s overall style affects your target audience’s experience of your brand. To cater to a wider range of audience with diverse needs, you need to adapt your style guidelines with inclusivity in mind.

Such adaptations could include guidelines on how to combine your brand’s color palette to achieve ADA compliance like Walmart’s(opens in a new tab or window), how to write and publish your content with accessibility in mind, and more.

Color palette and color combinations

Being ADA-compliant means applying the accessibility standards issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to your website and digital content.

The best way to come up with such adaptations is to listen to audience feedback and incorporate their needs and sensitivities into your style guide.

Adaptations for different channels

As you grow your brand, you’ll surely expand your presence to a diverse range of channels, which will likely have their own requirements. These platforms’ requirements should serve as your prompt when creating adaptation guidelines consistent with your brand guidelines.

For example, if your brand is widely available in department stores and other online stores, your style guide could include adaptations for store displays and advertisements.

If you’re creating branding for a tourism campaign, you will want to expand your style guide to include merchandise integration, seasonal adaptations, and more.

Aside from adaptations for physical merchandise, advertising and printed materials, and POP (point of purchase) displays, you may also want to devote a section on your style guide to social media platforms.

Like other conventional channels, each social media platform will have its own sets of specific requirements, which you’ll want to be ready for.


How to create a style guide?

When creating a style guide, it’s important to keep in mind your business goals and target audience. But it’s equally crucial that you craft your style guide with your teams’ needs in mind. Make it easier for them to conform to your guidelines while encouraging their creativity and imagination with these steps.

How to create a style guide

Start your entire process by refreshing your style guide team’s understanding of your brand. Clarify your brand mission and business goals. Take a closer look at your target audience and if needed, update your user personas.

Another useful exercise before working on your style guide is to determine your brand personality. Agree on your adjectives and use them as your anchor during your entire style guide creation process.

Look at your competitors and other brands that you admire. How do they present their brands to the world? How can you learn from their best practices? How can you differentiate yourself with your unique selling points?

For ease and convenience, you can gather all these pieces of inspiration in one place by using an online whiteboard that supercharges your creative process.

After reviewing other brands’ style guides, you’ll have a better idea about the sections you want to prioritize on yours. This will highly depend on the kind of experience you want your audience to have with your brand.

If you’re just starting out with your business, you might not be able to have a totally comprehensive style guide just yet — and that’s okay! Remember, a style guide is not a static document but a dynamic one, continually growing, expanding, and improving based on your brand’s and your audience’s needs.

A good branding style guide anticipates the needs and questions your creatives and contributors might have when working with your brand assets. To make a helpful style guide, here are some details you might want to include:

Visual style guide:

  • Minimum and maximum size of logo
  • Do’s and don’ts of logo placements and usage
  • Color palette codes
  • Acceptable color palette combinations
  • Imagery do’s and don’ts

Writing style guide:

  • Word choice
  • Sentence style
  • Words to avoid
  • Style guide reference
  • Writing tools
  • How to check references

You might also want to create separate style guides meant for your social media team, freelancers, and guest contributors.

For this portion, it’s important to get the input of the different teams that you would expect to work creatively on your brand. Invite a representative from each team or unit to a brainstorming session so you can get their input firsthand.

Finalize your style guide in a single document. To organize your content, use a style guide template.

If you’ve got a detailed style guide, be sure to include an interactive table of contents linking to each section, so that your team can easily access items that are relevant to their specific tasks and needs.

To make your style guide useful for your teams, you have to make it easy for them to access. There are several ways you can achieve this:

If you’ve got external collaborators such as guest bloggers or freelance social media personnel, you could publish versions of your style guide tailored to their given tasks.

Demonstrate the right usage of your brand identity and assets as detailed in your style guide by creating templates for your brand.

Some templates to include in your brand templates include those for your various social media, presentations, letterheads, company email signatures, and others.

Seeing your brand in action should give you ideas on how you can further improve your brand to better engage with your community or target audience.

Use these learnings to boost your brand and be sure that your brand style guide reflects any changes you may want to make.


Get inspired with style guide templates

Whether you’re in the process of revamping an existing style guide or starting a brand new one, grab a customizable style guide template from Canva to make your task more efficient. Apply your color palette and fonts to the document and let your creative process begin with ease!

With a ready-made style guide template at hand, you can immediately start your style guide creation process without having to second-guess which items to include in your document. This should leave you with even more time and energy to come up with ideas you can apply to make your style guide even more useful and unique to your brand.


All you need in a style guide maker

Creating a style guide is easier with Canva’s style guide generator. Boost your document with easy access to visual and writing tools. Collaborate with a team to ensure that your style guide stays consistent with your bigger vision. Make the process fun, creative, and exciting with Canva’s intuitive suite of tools and features.

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Style guide best practices

There are so many details to consider when creating a style guide. As such, it can prove to be quite a challenge, especially if it’s your first time to craft one for your brand.

If you’re ready to take on this demanding but exciting task, here are some best practices to help you manage and achieve your goal of crafting the best possible style guide for your business.

Make it detailed, but not overwhelming

While you want your style guide to be the most comprehensive style document for your brand, you need to make sure to veer away from filling it with hard and fast rules.

Instead, try to strike a balance between detail and creative freedom. Include specifications and tips on presenting your brand in the best way possible. Make room for interpretation, using the style guide as both a source of inspiration and a reference for consistency and quality checks.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your style guide at a maximum of four to six pages per section. Include a clear table of contents so that any team member can instantly get to the section relevant to their task, with the option to skip previous pages.

Stay consistent with your brand personality

Treat your style guide as yet another embodiment of your brand, just like the rest of your brand assets and the guidelines you want to detail in your style document. Let your brand style guide speak in the tone of voice befitting your brand personality. Incorporate your logo, color palette, and design philosophy in the layout of your style guide as well.

Choose your brand's font and inspiration

Supercharge your style guide with visuals that your team can also draw inspiration from.

Insert real-life applications and examples

The best way to demonstrate your style guidelines is by including actual examples in your document. Want to show your recommended logo usages? Include do’s and don’ts with pictures as examples. If your business includes branded merchandise, create realistic mockups showing your brand, color palette, and typography in use.

Same goes for your writing style guide section. You could include side-by-side comparisons of your writing do’s and don’ts, just to demonstrate your brand’s writing style.

Include tools and references

An excellent way to ensure consistency among your team members is to include tools and references in your style guide. These may include a link to your baseline writing style guide, your preferred dictionary, and other tools to check for quality. Providing these references to your team members and collaborators saves time and effort while adding another layer to help ensure consistency.

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Canva mockups
Create a mockup to show your brand assets in action, as per your style guide recommendation.

Encourage collaboration

Allow your brand style guide to be a living and breathing document and not a bible of hard and fast rules. Encourage your team members to give their input. As they begin to use your style guide out in the real world, they will surely have their thoughts!

That’s why it’s important to review and update your style guide regularly — so that the team members who actually work with your document as a basis for their work can give you input on what’s working and what could be better improved.

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Canva for Teams
Take collaboration to the next level with Canva for Teams. Keep all your style guide-related docs and your Brand Kit in one platform for your team to access with ease.
Add a comment to your brand style guide doc

With Canva Docs, you can tag team members and leave comments or feedback on your style guide design.


Style guide FAQs

If you’re in the process of starting or growing your brand, then yes, you need a style guide. It will help you and your team create brand-consistent content. Keep in mind that consistency isn’t just for aesthetics. It helps you communicate and engage with your target audience better, allowing you to establish trustworthiness while building brand recognition.

The following items belong in a style guide:

  • Short and sweet section on your brand story, mission, and target audience;
  • Clear and concise visual and writing style guide sections, including specifications, do’s and don’ts, and real-life examples and applications.

On the other hand, what doesn’t belong in a style guide include:

  • Your entire brand messaging strategy — though it can be quickly referenced, if crucial;
  • Your entire brand kit — though you can include your style guide within your brand kit.

Using a style guide when designing your website helps your web designer stay consistent with your overall brand style and identity. Using your style guide as a top design reference, your web designer can make design decisions that reflect your branding and prioritize user experience.


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Ensure creative consistency with a style guide

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