How to create a visual brand style guide

Your brand needs a visual style guide- Here’s how to create one

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Without a defined brand identity, there’s only so much you can grow and expand your overall brand presence. After all, consumers see about 6,000 - 10,000 ads every day(opens in a new tab or window), and only a fraction of those will stick with your target audience – no matter how good your social media strategy(opens in a new tab or window) is. The key to building a strong brand is having a cohesive brand style, and infusing your unique brand personality into every element of communication and marketing.

The best way to define your brand positioning and make it easy for others to replicate is to create a visual brand style guide. By combining all of the aspects of your company identity into one single brand book, you can save time, empower everyone to create, and tell your brand story. (Pro tip: host your brand style guide online so any updates are automatically reflected across your org, no scrambling to send new versions when anything changes.)

Style guides (or brand bibles) contain everything that marketers and designers need for brand management(opens in a new tab or window) – specifically related to creating branded assets – from color palette, to brand voice and tone, to logos and imagery. Whether you’re creating a website, ad, internal memo(opens in a new tab or window), social media post, branded apparel, or any other visual project, a brand style guide ensures that everything is consistent and on-brand.

Create a style guide(opens in a new tab or window) now and save yourself a lot of time and frustration down the road. Beyond that, a consistent visual identity helps build trust, and 88% of today’s consumers prioritize authentic brands(opens in a new tab or window).

Here’s how (and why) to develop a visual brand style guide for your team.

Table of Contents

What are brand identity guidelines?

Your brand identity(opens in a new tab or window) guidelines include anything a creative needs to match your brand’s look, feel, and values, and includes both assets, like logos or hex codes, and instructions on how to use them correctly. Most companies share their brand identity guidelines as a presentation or webpage, and maintenance falls under the umbrella of brand management.

A brand style guide(opens in a new tab or window), which includes brand identity guidelines, can be either an internal or external document(opens in a new tab or window), serving as a tool for your team, and inspiration for others.

Brand identity guidelines should include:

Brand style guides are often part of a brand media kit(opens in a new tab or window), used to make it easy to work with press and media outlets. If you’re looking to grow your executive presence, professional headshots with a branded background(opens in a new tab or window), or other PR materials may be useful to include.

Quick recap on the principles of branding

A memorable brand doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to connect with the right audience. Frank Body grew their beauty brand(opens in a new tab or window) into a cult following by leaning into their core values – being honest, not taking themselves too seriously, and making people feel good with simple skincare products. Since the company’s founders matched their target demographic, they learned how to connect with their customers on social media, jump on new trends, and grow their business online.

The key principles of good branding(opens in a new tab or window) are to build a relationship with your audience, establish trust, be consistent, and maintain your brand values.

Prepare to grow and evolve as audiences or products change. Brand refreshes(opens in a new tab or window) are necessary to stay relevant, and they provide an opportunity for some buzz.

Why are brand guidelines important?

Without brand guidelines(opens in a new tab or window), your creative team will be lost, you’ll lose brand consistency, and you’ll limit your overall credibility. A brand manual enables companies to grow (the right way) by giving them the option to outsource creative, whether that’s to other internal teams like sales enablement(opens in a new tab or window), marketing, and HR, or to external groups like freelancers and agencies.

Designing jewelry with papers showing the design process and evolution of the development.

Source: Canva Photos

Brand guidelines set a quality standard for your brand and hold everyone using it accountable. And, when everything related to strategic brand management(opens in a new tab or window) is in an organized, packaged document, your team can streamline design workflows, improve design collaboration, and make more incredible content, faster.

Canva Teams includes built-in features to improve brand approvals(opens in a new tab or window), remove creative bottlenecks, and get everyone on the same page with live design collaboration.

How a consistent visual brand identity helps boost engagement and brand awareness

Think of the most innovative brands you know. What do they have in common? First, they’re creating content. And they’re publishing their branded content across all of the platforms that their audience lives on – which might include Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, email, and other channels.

Creating platform-specific content, and optimizing it for a variety of channels and audiences is extremely time consuming and requires creative graphic design skills and marketing strategy. With visual brand guidelines(opens in a new tab or window), your creative teams will be able to make more content, share it, and connect with a wider audience.

In the past few years, internet traffic has increased by 60% in some countries(opens in a new tab or window), making a standout online presence more critical than ever before. With a consistent, relatable brand, you can create more impactful customer experiences and turn audience members into brand advocates.

Teams can move even faster when they publish to social media right from their design platform – schedule Canva social media posts with the Content Planner(opens in a new tab or window).

The difference between brand guidelines, brand positioning, and brand personality

Brand guidelines include marketing team-approved assets(opens in a new tab or window), elements, and templates to use in creative and strategic materials. Brand positioning is how you frame your company in relation to others in the field. Are you the fun, young skincare brand? Or the tried and true original founded a century ago? Each will have their own unique take on what “skincare branding” looks like. Brand personality is your brand’s voice and tone, and includes language, punctuation, social media guidelines, and how your brand should interact with its audience.

How to develop brand identity elements for marketing

Don’t make the mistake that many first-time marketers and brand strategists make – choosing styles and elements that they like.

Why is that a mistake? Because it’s not about what you like, but about what your audience likes, and what they engage with. Before putting any kind of pen or pen tool to paper, you need to define your target audience, and understand where you fall in the market in relation to your competitors. Use data to guide your decisions and remember, you can always make changes when you learn what works.

During this initial exploration process, think about ways that you can stand apart from the crowd and lean into your competitive differences.

Identify your target audience

Defining your ideal target audience, or buyer persona, is a huge part of building a successful digital marketing strategy(opens in a new tab or window). Start by exploring who interacts the most with your content, what your best users or customers’ profiles look like, and who your best customer advocates are. Then, find the common themes. Are your best customers all from enterprise brands? Or small, owner-operator organizations that have been around for 10+ years?

When in doubt, ask your sales team, audience, or customer service reps. The more clear a picture you can form of your ideal customer, the more effective your marketing efforts will be (and less expensive.)

Set brand goals

Brand awareness can be a bit nebulous to measure, which is why clear brand goals can help your team stay on track. Brand strategy(opens in a new tab or window) goals can include:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Increased reach
  • More followers, or more high-quality followers
  • PR placements, media appearances, or guest content opportunities
  • A thought leadership presence
  • Better engagement on social media

Create and share brand guidelines with internal and external teams

Compile everything that creatives need in one organized location. With Canva Teams, you can create multiple Brand Kits with color palettes, brand fonts, brand elements, branded templates, and real-time collaboration features.

As you build your Brand Kit(opens in a new tab or window), add guidelines on how, where, and when to use certain graphic elements, and provide educational materials for those who are new to design.

7 steps to build visual brand identity guidelines

1. Design a brand logo and create guidelines for placement and usage

Your logo(opens in a new tab or window) is an incredibly important part of your brand, and you want it to be reflected consistently in every asset that represents your company. In your style guide, you can dictate exactly how creatives should use your logo.

HubSpot uses their brand style guide to show exactly how to use their primary logo and supplementary logos for separate programs and departments.

It’s just as important to show how to not use your brand logo. Designers are creative by nature, so clearly define what they’re not supposed to do along with what they should. See here how HubSpot includes guidelines on what not to do when manipulating the logo.

If there’s ever an issue, you can refer them to the style guide and show where it clearly states how the logo can and cannot look. Make sure to include options for a dark background or light background, as well as alternates for situations where the designers have limited control over customization. Without detailed, but approachable brand logo guidelines, designers will be more likely to go rogue and weaken your brand image.

If your company has multiple logos, add them as separate pages or style guides, depending on who will be using them. See how HubSpot separates product logos from brand logos in the example from the HubSpot Brand Playbook below.

In the Yellow Black Design Studio Brand Guideline Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) template, the logo is placed in a predominant position in the design. Try the same with your brand's logo.

If you'd like to learn about making your own logo, then check out Canva Design School's free Creating a Logo course here(opens in a new tab or window).

2. Pick a brand color palette

Colors can be easily shifted from designer to designer or program to program. It’s important to give the exact hex code for web use as well as CMYK values and Pantone colors for items that will be printed.

Working on a brand design on a laptop surrounded by color palette ideas.

Source: Canva Photos

Shifts between RGB(opens in a new tab or window) and CMYK(opens in a new tab or window) can be severe, so be sure to manually check any conversions to make sure they’re accurate, which saves both time and money if printing.

A consistent color theme and visual brand identity helps your design. Check out the Bright Playful Pastel Brand Guidelines template(opens in a new tab or window) by Halley Room.

3. Choose brand fonts that reflect your unique identity

Fonts(opens in a new tab or window) are a large part of any collateral you produce – make sure to be consistent with your typography(opens in a new tab or window) throughout in order to look professional. Often you’ll have many different typefaces each for a different purpose. In your guide you can dictate what typeface goes where and how to use it.

Brand fonts should include headline fonts, body fonts, and personality fonts for designs.

Here, Atlassian’s typography guidelines(opens in a new tab or window) are extremely thorough, and map out exactly how to use each font, how to make accommodations based on operating system, and the specs for each typography style.

The use of an angular typeface in the Red and White Brand Guidelines Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) template complements the overall design.

4. Select branded iconography that represents your niche

Iconography can help set your brand apart and convey information in a more impactful, skimmable way. Include brand icons(opens in a new tab or window) and guidelines in your brand book to make sure they’re being used appropriately. You can link specific sets within the guide so they’re much easier to find.

This brand design by Ioana Balasa for Bandoola Bowl(opens in a new tab or window) shows how patterns and icons can enhance designs and be used effectively. Here, there are size variations, and color changes, but the shapes maintain the same organic, bespoke brand identity.

The illustrations in the Green Healthy Foods Brand Guidelines Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) template complement the theme of the design.

Brand guidelines cover page template with a green, organic aesthetic and illustrations of vegetables.

5. Set photography and videography style guidelines, and provide a library of brand-approved photos, images, and video

Photography and videography can also be reflections of your brand. Specific styles evoke certain responses, and people can recognize a brand based off of a photo or a video clip. While imagery is necessary for all brands, if it’s an important part of yours it’s something you should include in your guide for any photographers or videographers you work with to reference.

Zendesk’s Brand Guidelines(opens in a new tab or window) define their minimalist, friendly personality. And, the style guide lays out exactly what photographers, editors, and marketers need to know to match the Zendesk style.

Here’s what to include in your brand photography guidelines:

  • Style references + inspiration
  • Examples
  • How to use each type of photo or video based on the project
  • Event photography tips
  • Technical specs
  • Editing dos and don’ts
  • Photography files
  • Video files

Keep in mind that photographers are visual people. If you’re going to provide them with specifications, give them some examples they can reference as well.

Check out the Brown and White Brand Guidelines Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) template and make your style guide more visual and photo friendly.

Brand style guide template with brand photography and typography, along with a space for brand purpose/who we are.

6. Collect web-specific brand elements, like illustrations, animations, and stickers

Your website is the window to your organization, and it’s a powerful tool to attract, engage, and convert your audiences. Almost half of marketing leaders are investing more in content marketing initiatives(opens in a new tab or window) like a strong website after seeing success with their efforts in previous years.

Today, to succeed, your brand needs to have a cohesive online presence, from email marketing to social media to content marketing. Your site should feel like your brand just as much as anything else you produce.

To maximize the effectiveness of your website, establish a strategic hierarchy through design, typography, and calls to action (CTAs). The buttons and navigation bar should match your brand style, as well as a 404 page (fun 404 pages make light of an inconvenient situation).

Canva Pro users have access to millions of premium content elements(opens in a new tab or window), like photos, videos, graphics, audio files, and illustrations. Make sure to create a library of brand-approved elements and animations(opens in a new tab or window) for website and social media use.

7. Put together brand guidelines in a shareable format with instructions for use, and include your brand story

A comprehensive visual style guide has everything your audience needs to capture your brand, and your brand alone. Include layout references and examples for different types of marketing projects, like Zendesk(opens in a new tab or window).

Package your brand identity guidelines in a digital format to make them more accessible to others, and use a clean, simple brand template to avoid confusion. It’s helpful to include your brand story, your founder story, and any other information that might not be readily available on your public-facing website, but that impacts your persona and visual identity.

Create your own brand templates(opens in a new tab or window) and share them with the whole team using Canva Teams.

Brand identity guideline examples and inspiration

Some companies are known for their impeccable brands. If they’ve sent emails to designers asking them to update social campaigns to reflect the new brand… it must be a rare occurrence.

Here are some of the most notable brands’ style guides, and what they’re doing right. (Hint: steal these ideas to improve your brand workflows.)

Spotify

Spotify’s design guidelines(opens in a new tab or window) get right into the nitty gritty details that designers need to know, like how to properly attribute rights, the best practices for sharing audio content, and standard brand identity assets like logo, colors, and typography.

Apple

In Apple’s marketing guidelines(opens in a new tab or window), they leverage icons and Apple’s signature minimalist design style.

Google

Google’s brand resources(opens in a new tab or window) do more than just provide brand assets and instructions for using them, they include a history of the evolution of the brand, and a rich background of how they’ve gotten to where they are.

More visual brand style guide inspiration

Need more inspiration for your small business, retail brand, or another niche category? Take a look at 50 brand style guides, and free templates to create your own visual brand guidelines(opens in a new tab or window).

Sample brand book template to customize

Ready to get started? Here’s a 25-slide visual brand style guide template(opens in a new tab or window) that you can customize with your own brand identity.

Explore this bold, bright brand guidelines presentation template(opens in a new tab or window) and follow along. This template includes:

  • A cover page
  • Table of contents
  • Brand vision
  • Marketing goals
  • Iconography guidelines
  • Logo files and tips
  • Brand color palette
  • Photography guidelines
  • Brand typefaces
  • Social media guidelines
  • Brand points of contact

Let’s take a look at a few of the pages in this brand template.

  • Cover page
The cover page of a brand identity guidelines template from Canva.

Include a headline, your brand name and logo, and any relevant dates on the brand style guide cover page.

  • Table of contents
Table of contents page from a sample brand identity style guide template from Canva.

The more organized your brand style guide, the easier it is to use.

“Our philosophy” brand mission page from a sample brand style guide from Canva.

Include the why behind the brand as context for all marketing and design projects.

  • Logo guidelines
Logo requirements in a sample brand style guide presentation from Canva.

New logo? Provide clear examples of what to do and what not to do with existing brand files.

When it comes to brand style guides, more context can help creatives avoid questions, but be cautious of people’s time. If it takes hours to review the brand book, they may choose to make educated guesses, which will cost more time to correct in the long run. Use jump links, clear sections, and even separate guides if necessary to streamline the design process.

A visual style guide elevates your brand identity, and anyone can create one, but it’s not a one and done project.

However you decide to make your style guide, it should be clear and concise. Whether it looks so fantastic you want to publish it for all to see and use, or it’s a work in progress for internal teams only, it should do one thing: make the design process smooth and simple for all. And remember, your brand is always evolving, so plan for a brand refresh(opens in a new tab or window) in the future.

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