How to create a visual style guide for your brand

One of the most essential documents any business can have is a brand style guide, yet many don’t have one.

Why are style guides so important? They ensure brand consistency throughout any collateral you produce–no matter who created it.

Style guides (or brand bibles) contain all the necessary information to create whatever your company needs. Whether it be a website, advertisement, internal memo, or whatever else, this little document will make your life a breeze. So, if these guides are so important, why isn’t everyone on the bandwagon?

The biggest reason is time. Style guides don’t just magically appear. They take time and effort to create, and time is a precious thing. But how much time does it take to explain to a designer how much space you need around your logo at all times? And how they’re not supposed to change any of the colors? What about finding every font you use and having to relay that to them as well? Not to mention any iconography you’ve got circulating. Then when you hire a second designer since your business is booming, you’ll have to explain it all over again.

Do yourself a favor. Create a style guide now and save yourself a lot of time and frustration down the road. Let’s get started with some basics.

01. Dictate your logo size and placement

Your logo is an incredibly important part of your brand, and you want it to be reflected consistently along the way. In your guide, you can dictate exactly how to use your logo.

Temply style guide.

Here Temply dictates proper logo use as well as the variations that are acceptable for other color usage in their style guide. You can see how they used their brand guide to place the right logo on their annual report.

It’s also important to show how to not use the logo. Designers are creative by nature, and it’s important to show them what they’re not supposed to do alongside what they should. You can see these instructions outlined here Oxford University’s style guide by Gulp Creative.

Oxford University’s style guide by Gulp Creative. Image via Behance.

That way if there’s an issue, you can refer them to the style guide and show where it clearly states how the logo can and cannot look.

If your company has multiple logos it uses you can condense the pages down and include all of the above information in single pages, or have pages dedicated to each logo, which you can see in the example from FedEx’s style guide below.

In the Yellow Black Design Studio Brand Guideline Presentation template, the logo is placed in a predominant position in the design. Try the same with your brand's logo.

02. Pick your color palette–and stick with it

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.

Shifts between RGB and CMYK 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.

Here you can see how Fedex dictates the appropriate color codes to ensure consistency across the board.

A consistent color theme helps your design. Check out the White and Pink Minimal Floral Brand Guideline Presentation template.

03. Choose fonts that reflect your unique identity

Fonts are a large part of any collateral you produce, and it’s essential to be consistent with your typography 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.

Here the headline typeface is depicted in The New Agency’s style guide by Studio by K, as well as several other font combinations. This guide could benefit from showing sizing, kerning (the spacing between your letters and words), and leading (the distance between lines of text on the page).

Here you can see how their typography was implemented on their website.

The use of an angular typeface in the Red and White Brand Guidelines Presentation template complements the overall design.

04. Select iconography to set you apart

Iconography can really help set your brand apart. Include it in your guide to make sure it’s being used appropriately. You can link specific sets within the guide so they’re much easier to find.

This design by Sam Small for BUNKR is a great example that demonstrates how patterns and icons can be used effectively. Here you can see the size variations and color preference, but as you’ll see in the next image can change in certain instances.

BUNKR redesign by Sam Small. Image via Behance.

Here you can see the pattern was adjusted to black and white to be used as a receipt, but in the next image, it is used in its full-color state for the interior of an envelope.

Adapting the brand design for other materials.

The illustrations in the Green Classy Vintage Typefaces Brand Guidelines Presentation template complement the theme of the design.

05. Set a style for your photography

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

Photography style from the Redfern area in Sydney brand guidelines.

This page taken from Redfern’s brand style guide is a little word heavy, but it lays out exactly what a photographer would need to know for whatever they happen to be shooting. It gives style reference as well as specs to make sure everything transitions from the photographer to you smoothly.

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.

District style guide by Creature Design.

Or consider this image taken from District’s style guide, created by Creature Design. You can see a similar style reflected in their magazine below.

The elements listed in District's Style Guide reflects in their published materials.

Check out the Brown and White Brand Guidelines Presentation template and get the look.

06. Don’t forget about web-specific elements

Today it is a necessity to have your brand online in one form or another. Your site should feel like your brand just as much as anything else you produce. A lot of the things you use for print will translate just fine over to the web, but there are some things that are strictly online that you might not have thought about.

There are often multiple pages to a website, and each page needs to look related to the next. Decide what information is most important and form a hierarchy to be used throughout. 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).

07. Set your brand voice

A brand voice is just as important as the brand style. Your brand should sound and look a certain way. In an ideal world, you’d have one person constantly writing everything your brand needs, but most of the time that’s not possible. Giving the writer you have on hand guidelines for how they should dictate your brand will help avoid any instances of sounding off-brand.

You might include particular words and phrases that should always appear, or be sure to say which words should be avoided. Maybe you only want to appeal to women over 65 who love to knit, be clear to include the audience you're targeting and how it should sound.

08. What it all boils down to

You may be curious how collateral turns out when you have a style guide, and the images below are great examples.

Here is an excerpt from Terra Prima’s style guide, and you’ll see in the next two images how this single page is applied to different media.

You can see the elements of the style guide coming together to help shape these pieces.

Put it all together. Check out the Geometric Diamond Pattern Brand Guidelines Presentation template.

Now that you know the basics, you may be wondering if everything above is completely necessary for your brand, and the answer is probably not. Every brand will need different information. There are some brand guides that are over 100 pages, and some that are as short as a single sheet. Determine what is most necessary for you and go from there.

It’s also important to realize that brands change. The style guide you create this week might be different from the one you’re using in a year. Allow for flexibility, but always be sure to save old versions to refer back to.

That last thing you need to decide is whether this is a public or internal document. There are pros and cons to both. If your document is public you can give anyone who needs it the information directly through a link. The downside is anyone can get their hands on it and potentially rip off your branding.

If you choose to keep it internal it can be a lot easier to update. You won’t have to worry about how professional it looks either since it won’t be viewed outside of the company, although it is more difficult to relay to outside sources.

However you decide to make your style guide, it should be clear and concise. Whether it looks so fantastic you want to make it available for all to see, or not so great and you just want to keep it within the family, it should do one thing: make the design process smooth and simple for all.

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