There is (arguably) nothing more reassuring than consistency. It makes us feel safe and it lets us know what we can expect.
It’s important for brands to have this steadiness in order to keep their audience engaged.
When a company is in the startup phase, consistency is easy to achieve - there are only a couple of employees to manage and few marketing materials to design and develop.
As a company continues to grow, its brand becomes increasingly prominent. With that prominence comes a need to remain relevant and recognizable for the audience that is being served. That stability needs to be understood by all employees so that it can be clearly translated to the company’s consumers.
But if your company is five hundred people, how can this be accomplished? If only there were a place where all of your brand elements could live in one place.
Enter the style guide.
How to design a style guide
Before you get to designing, it’s best to have a good idea of what a style guide is.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a set of standards for a brand’s overall identity in order to ensure that a systematic appearance is given amongst all materials.
Some companies simply put everything together into a Word document with a Times New Roman typeface and call that their style guide. Others go above and beyond to ensure that their style guide is in tip-top shape, thorough, and gorgeous. Yours should be one of the latter.
Before we begin, there are a few quick tips that you adhere to while designing your brand style guide.
First, know that the trend of “less is more” does not apply to the design of a style guide. The more detail you include in yours, the less likely an intern will stray off the path and add an unwarranted gradient to your logo or use a casual voice in a piece of writing that shouldn’t be casual at all. More detail here means fewer questions.
Second, once this style guide is created, don’t hide it in the depths of the company intranet. No matter what format it’s in, make sure that it’s accessible to everyone. The more the employees of your company are aware of the existence of these style guidelines, the better.
Now that we have those important, general points out of the way, here are some things to consider as you’re designing the style guide itself.
The word “format” can be applied to your style guide in several ways. Here, it’s being used to describe the way that the brand style guide will be delivered as well as how it should be laid out.
The reason you’re creating a style guide is so that everyone can access it and adhere to its guidelines. If the team you’re designing the guide for is all in one place, it might be a nice touch to have a printed version in the office.
If the team is comprised of employees who work in an office together as well as remotely (freelancers, agencies, additional remote employees or partners), creating a style guide in a PDF or an online format will make it easy to share with others, no matter where they’re located.
There are an infinite number of ways that a brand style guide can be laid out. To keep things as neat as possible, we recommend using desktop publishing software that provides grids and guides.
A grid helps to keep every element displayed in a consistent manner, improving readability. Be sure that the page layout you ultimately work with establishes a clear hierarchy. Failing to do so could result in losing important information in translation.
You’re not the first person to design a style guide - I promise. There are plenty of brands with outstanding style guide examples that you can use to inspire your layout.
For consistency, make sure you follow your own style guide. Use the header that your company would use for their headers, and place your company name on every page.
The 7 essentials
Your brand’s style guide doesn’t have to be a rigid, stern document. If your brand has a unique personality, let that show throughout the style guide from cover to cover (or the top of the PDF to the bottom). Let’s start at the beginning.
A brand without a story isn’t much of a brand. The story of a company is what the entire brand is based on. To make sure that employees are familiar with this story, why not lay it out at the beginning of your style guide?
The first part of your brand style guide should include your brand’s mission statement, values, and vision. This section doesn’t have to be lengthy - it’s included to ensure that employees get a basic understanding of the culture and makes a great introduction for what’s to come: the style that aligns with the story.
You know that feeling when you order a coffee and the barista asks for your name, then butchers it on your coffee cup? Yes, you do.
That’s how designers feel when you mess with their logo design. Not only that, but too much variation creates a sense of disorganization among the brand and makes for a weaker identity.
On your logo page, include your primary logo design and all types of logos that are acceptable for secondary use. While you’re at it, include variations that are not appropriate. Remember, the more information you provide for employees, the less likely they are to stray away.
The color palette
Saying your brand’s color is “orange” is nowhere near enough guidance for employees, unless your creative team has no preference of shade.
In this next section, detail what your brand colors are. When we say detail we mean it. If your brand hasn’t identified core colors, spend some time with your team coming up with adjectives that align with your brand and learn more about color psychology. Most brands choose up to four main colors.
On this page, make a point to actually display the color, along with the information that any employee would need in order to match that color. This includes the PANTONE name and number, print color (CMYK), and digital color (RGB and HEX code).
If your brand doesn’t have secondary colors, consider including shades of the primary colors. This will give employees a little more to play around with.
While the typography that a company uses may not seem important, it’s truly just as identifying as a distinctive color palette. Therefore, typography deserves its own section in a brand style guide.
To begin, find out if there’s a special reason why your company’s typeface(s) was chosen. If there was one, provide a backstory for the employees - this makes things a little more interesting and can put more meaning behind the text.
Be sure to note whether your brand sticks to one typeface, or if they’ve taken to font pairing. Further, identify which font should be used for a certain occasion: headers, captions, and body text will likely be fonts of differentiating weight and size.
Additionally, define the primary alignment of text. Specify whether headers should be aligned to the center or the right, whether body text should be aligned to the left or justified, and so on.
Not just any photo will emulate the mood of your company. This section will guide employees in whichever way you choose to make sure that the photographs used on any materials are appropriate.
This can be done by providing a page that mimics a mood board, as it provides elements such as lighting and color that should be consistent throughout photographs. If you already have branded photographs, lay out a few of them as examples. Both of these techniques will hint to employees that those samples are what to aim for.
If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, you can provide some specific camera settings that should always be used to make sure that all photographs are cohesive. You can also show examples of how these photographs can be laid out on a page.
The illustrations and graphics
Some companies may use hand-drawn illustrations in addition to or as a substitute for photographs. Unique illustrations make a company stand out and create a more personalized customer experience than just the traditional stock photo display. Illustrations can make complex ideas simple and can be customized to communicate a specific message to an audience.
Other companies may not have illustrations, per se, but background elements specific to their brand.
If your company uses illustrations or background elements in their promotional or marketing products, don’t overlook the inclusion of those in the brand style guide. Provide examples and describe the overall style of the illustrations and graphics that should be used. If your company keeps an archive of illustrations online, be sure to include the location at which they can be found so that employees can use them at ease.
Part of what makes a brand’s personality stand out is their voice. How does your company communicate with its customers? Some companies speak very formally, making them seem trustworthy. Other companies have a casual voice, making them more friendly and approachable.
Whatever your company’s voice may be, the consistency of this voice is important. This is difficult to achieve when the company is populated by dozens or hundreds or individual personalities. While diversity is encouraged in the workplace, consistency of the brand’s voice is what makes it stronger.
In your style guide, list a few adjectives that could be used to describe your company’s voice. If there are some words or phrases that your company prefers employees use over others, create a do’s and don’ts section by providing some examples to clearly display your brand’s voice.
Do it with style
A style guide is the lighthouse that leads all of your employees to security and safety within the brand. With a great guide comes great results. The more that employees are aware of your style guide and adhere to the rules that are within, the stronger your brand will come out on the other side.
Does your team need guidance on something more than style? Learn more about brand strategy and the eight elements of brand success.
Daniella Alscher is a Brand Designer for G2. When she's not reading or writing, she's spending time with her dog, watching a true crime documentary on Netflix, or trying to learn something completely new. (she/her/hers)