A style guide is a set of rules to follow any time a member of your organization wants to publish, present or promote content for your brand. It answers questions like:
What font does your logo use? What colors are approved? When you need an image for a project, what tone and feel should it have? Should writers use “email” or does your organization prefer the hyphenated “e-mail?” What is your stance on the Oxford comma debate?
These seem like small details, but if they’re not captured in a style guide your beautiful brand can quickly drift into an inconsistent experience for your customers and employees.
Fast Company’s Delia Bonfilo noted consistency as a critical part of crafting a sustainable identity, and your style guide can play a major role in maintaining this consistency: “It’s consistent manner of use will evoke a sense of dependability and professionalism.”
Who benefits from a style guide?
It’s likely that at one point or another, you’ll have more than one person creating content for your brand. You’ll hire new people, your teams will grow and change, and everyone will need to know the ‘rules for your brand’. Vieo Design’s Melanie Chandler said it best:
“Branding style guides are helpful whether you are a small company with only one designer, or are well over 100 employees. They ensure that every visual element produced by or about your company is consistent, so a new hire doesn’t decide to take their own creative spin on your brand.”
External contractors need to quickly be able to pick up on the correct tone and language for your brand, too, and a style guide allows them to do that. It also saves them the time (which as everyone knows is money) trying to track down this information from other sources.
“Visual language is like any other language. Misunderstandings arise if the language is not shared and understood by everyone using it. As a product or team grows, the challenges within these modalities compound.” – Airbnb’s Building a Visual Language
Managers and editors benefit from a solid style guide, too. The less time they have to spend making edits to their employees’ work, the better. Removing uncertainty from a brand discussion (“The logo’s background color is cerulean blue!” “No, it’s deep sky blue!”) saves time and reduces frustration. Having a definitive guideline to refer to allows everyone to feel confident that they’re staying on-brand.
Making sure that you define the visual experience throughout all of your communications will lead to a better customer interaction with your brand. Having a style guide ensures that you avoid inconsistent messaging, which is confusing and isolating to your audience.
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How to Create a Style Guide
Feel ready to embark on assembling your own style guide? Great! It’s not as overwhelming as you think. How many elements and items that make up your style guide will be based on the size of your company and your branding needs. While your list may expand, here are six basic items that should be on your style guide:
What is your brand? What does it stand for? What are your goals and vision for your company? These are all important things to define early, as they will serve as the guidepost for the overall flavor you want your brand to incorporate.
Your logo is the most essential element in your guide. A logo represents the aesthetic of your company’s brand, is the first thing people notice, and the piece that they remember later on. A good logo can help define the culture of your company at a glance, and it should be consistent everywhere it’s used.
General rules for the logo include specifications about the size, placement, how much negative space is around it, and the places your company considers appropriate usage.
Color is a powerful part of your brand. Properly used, it can make your brand feel exciting, mysterious, smart, light-hearted, or luxurious. To make sure your brand’s colors aren’t subjected to an over-zealous designer’s pastel or glow effect, your style guide should have a detailed color palette. It should clearly show what colors are permitted, where certain colors should (and shouldn’t) be used, and what colors should be avoided. This should include the specific color values (RGB, CMYK, and even Pantone) to remove uncertainty when creating collateral for the web, print, and other media.
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Fonts and Typography
Your typeface and font are important, as are the rules that you assign to them. Headers, quotes, copy and any fine print all need the right color choice, sizing and style, with font choice of critical importance. Stop that new intern from replacing your carefully chosen typeface with the dreaded Comic Sans MS by detailing all of your brand’s typography in your guide.
Your style guide should include image guidelines: what’s allowed, what’s not, and when a specific image should be used. You can even include instructions on where images should be sourced from, and if you have a particular aesthetic, what form it takes. Some companies prefer images with people in them, others standardize on sweeping landscapes and vistas. Whatever you’ve decided for your business should be spelled out in your guide.
Style guides aren’t just for visual elements. The lexicon your company chooses can help define your brand’s personality and can have a profound effect on how your customers interact with you. Words are everywhere, from social media posts to sales brochures and product information, and serious brands take words seriously. Apple and Yahoo! both have well-regarded guides for how they use words, and while you don’t need a weighty tome, capturing the general sound of your company’s “voice” can make the difference between an anything-goes approach and something more measured and unique.
“A style guide should do just that—guide, but never restrain, creativity,” – Barbican’s Brand Guidelines
Ultimately, style guides are not about crafting hard and fast rules for every little piece of your brand. they’re meant to be guidelines that create consistency and help your company project a unified presence.
There are a number of tools available to help you create your own style guide, including Frontify and ZippyPixel’s printable brand guidelines template. There is also seemingly endless inspiration available to help you learn from the work of others.
Like businesses, brands are “living documents” that evolve and grow over time. By capturing the essence of your own brand in a style guide you can maintain and nurture your own brand while ensuring it’s delivered consistently and concisely.
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