What is a Brand Style Guide?
You had a designer create a fantastic logo for your vintage boutique furniture shop. She gave you a few versions of your logo for use in a variety of places including your invoices, the door of your shop and your social media accounts. She picked the perfect mix of bold and supporting neutral colors, as well as an eclectic pairing of sans and slab-serif typefaces to use. The designer even created a set of hand-drawn patterns and icons for you to use on a range of items from business cards to a website. She really delivered that “boho meets mid-century modern” style you discussed at the start of the project, reflecting the type of products you sell. On top of it all, she gave you a nifty document that lays out how you should use all of these design elements. This document is what we call a Brand Style Guide.
The Brand Style Guide is a living document that provides direction on how to use all the identity elements your designer created, such as the logo, the colors, and the typography. Its intention is to communicate design standards. It defines how your brand should be visually represented to the public across printed and digital marketing materials. Brand Style Guides are also commonly referred to as Brand Guidelines, Brand Manuals, Identity Manuals, or just Style Guides.
Why do I need a Style Guide?
You might be wondering, “why would I need instructions to use my logo? Isn’t it self-explanatory?”
You might think it’s fairly straightforward as to when, how, or why you should use your brand elements, but there’s good reason a style guide is essential to the branding process.
A Style Guide Saves Time
With the Brand Style Guide, you will already know what fonts and colors to use and how much space to leave around your logo when you create an ad for your upcoming holiday sale. A style guide will save time because it provides a framework for designing materials that utilize your brand’s unique style. You won’t need to make decisions about colors, type, and logo usage as they’ve already been established by the designer, leaving ample time for you to place focus on your message.
Let’s say you no longer have time to produce ads that push out to all your social media and online advertising hubs. To preserve quality and your sanity, you hire a freelancer to create these for you. At this point, you hand over your style guide, as it provides all the directives needed to ensure your materials are cohesive and consistent. In other words, the freelancer will be able to stay “on-brand” and deliver a set of ads that appear unified. The style guide maintains visual consistency across your brand, continually promoting positive brand recognition.
Without the style guide, your brand identity may become vulnerable to interpretation by anyone who attempts to use it. Without the set of “rules,” that shade of olive green used in your logo might begin to shift to brown over a number of incorrect applications. If the person setting up your brochure doesn’t have the same fonts, they might guess and use something that is similar, but not correct. These small changes end up becoming the model as you fall victim to an unintentional game of design ‘telephone.’ After a short period of time, you begin to notice that very few of your brand identity materials match anymore.
What’s in a Brand Style Guide?
A style guide will vary with complexities and parameters of each unique brand. This is something that would be discussed before the start of your project and generally depends on what’s included in your designer’s solution.
At a minimum, the document should include:
- Alternative logo lock-ups (i.e. variations of the logo for multiple applications of use)
- Clearspace, positioning, sizing
- Rules for use and “Do-Nots”
- Base Typography
- Core Color Palette
A more thorough document may include:
- Extended color palette
- Headlines and body copy examples
- Graphic brand elements (textures, patterns) and iconography created for brand
- Established brand vision and personality
- Examples of tone and voice
- Photographic styling
- Printing recommendations
- Logo usage examples
- Appendix with file names
When creating a more comprehensive brand experience, the next level will likely include various Brand Applications:
- Stationery Design (business cards, letterhead, envelope, folder)
- Samples of other potential brand materials applicable to your business (i.e. menus, ads, website homepage, packaging and labels, signage)
The Living, Breathing Document
As your brand evolves and adapts, your style guide should do the same. While the Brand Style Guide is traditionally delivered as a PDF document, companies are increasingly putting brand styles online. This makes it easier to keep things updated, and for websites built using content management systems (such as WordPress) making updates should be a breeze. No matter where it lives, the guide should be kept up to date and easily accessible to those working with your brand.
By now you should see, a Brand Style Guide is an essential part of the branding process. It will become a valued resource for you and others who are creating assets and brand materials for your company, keeping everything consistent. The style guide will help save time and money, as it takes the guess work out of how to treat your logo and your other brand elements. It helps put the focus back on your messaging and content as you work to build your brand. It also builds trust. The more cohesive your brand materials are, the more legitimate and trustworthy your brand is perceived. The Brand Style Guide ensures that your investment in your Brand Identity remains a valuable one. It enables you to, as we say, move your brand forward.