I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in NY. I specialize in the development of brands: brand strategy, identity & web design. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
Even if you have a great logo and identity, it’s NOT enough to just rely simply on a logo package.
Go beyond just logo files and create a professional style guide.
Even with a good-looking logo and identity, it is still a big challenge to maintain consistency in how the brand looks.
Especially when you have to create a lot of branded content or work with many designers.
If your brand doesn’t present a strong unified message across the board, it can be very detrimental to your integrity as a business.
So how to you ensure your brand always looks good?—Build a brand style guide and use it in everything you do.
PS. If you prefer watching a YouTube video—check it out my channel.
In this article, I will show you how to put together your brand style guide in just 5 easy steps.
Before we dive into the process, let's first understand the value of having a solid guidelines in place.
To illustrate that, I took as an example my recent client—Medihuanna.
Below you can see designs that were created with and without the style guide (by other designers)—can you spot the difference?
Without a solid style guide you can easily end up with misplaced logos, inconsistent colors, mashup layouts and generally off-brand look.
The biggest benefit of creating a style guide is not only ensuring consistency, but it is also a huge time saver.
When you have a solid brand standards in place, then it's much easier and faster to design something that is "on brand".
With that being said, let's dive into my 5-step process to create a brand style guide.
First, before you start putting together your style guide, you need to decide on what medium to use.
Depending on your needs, you can create a PDF document or a dedicated website.
More and more brands choose to go digital and create dedicated brand portals that host their guidelines.
While a digital style guide will certainly make it more accessible to everyone working with, for or on your brand—it’s not a requirement.
You can opt for an old-school PDF that can be printed, or even better—an interactive PDF that can also be viewed online in the browser.
Personally, I like to create style guides in InDesign and then publish them online, so that anyone can access them easily.
Adobe InDesign allows you to publish your documents with a click of a button (You need Adobe CC).
Alternatively, you can simply host your PDFs in the cloud, just like on Dropbox for example.
The medium of your choice will also dictate the document size and page orientation.
I like to create my guidelines in landscape letterhead format, so that way I kill two birds at once—they can be printed using a regular printer, and they look good on screen as well.
However, if you decide that you won't need to print your style guide at all, then you can even go for a format like for example 1920 by 1080.
Once you made up your mind about the medium and format you’re going to use, then it’s time to make an outline—table of contents.
Every style guide should include at least: the logo do’s and don’ts, fonts, colors and examples of use.
However, while style guides are often thought of as visual-only, you should also include elements of your brand strategy in order to help people understand the brand they working on.
What components should a brand style guide include?
Every company has different needs and budget, but a solid style guide should definitely include the following components:
Again, this is not a complete breakdown of the sections you might want to include in your style guide—just the most common ones.
You could also include things like: composition, animation, UI components, editorial tips and other elements.
In order to define the scope of work properly, you need to examine all of the brand’s touch-points and based on that you can determine what elements will be required.
First, make a list of the applications that your brand may need designs for (website, presentation, stationery etc.)
Then try to design for key applications to figure out what elements your style guide should cover.
With the overall structure of your style guide created, then you go into each section and start laying out the content.
When fleshing out the content, it’s important to:
Focus on making your style guide extremely practical and understandable at a glance.
Make your guidelines easy to apply—include descriptions, annotations, tips, do's and don'ts, etc.
I find it really helpful to include at least these three pages in most of the sections:
Keep in mind that each section might require more or less pages—depending on what you describe.
Remember to give enough explanation for each element, but also try to be as concise as possible.
Nobody want’s to read hundreds of pages of text—especially not creatives, so keep it short and on point.
A good practice is to check out some of the best style guides to get inspired.
Also see my other blog post where I feature some of the best brand guidelines available online, to get some inspiration.
Ultimately, design is an iterative process where you go back and forth to test things out.
Next, based on what performs best, you can distill some rules and guidelines for others to follow in order to recreate that kind of a look.
In other words—You must first design something first, in order to be able to establish rules on how things should be designed.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that your goal is to develop a practical guide that empowers creatives with the tools they need to create things that are “on brand”.
Once you’ve fleshed out the content and it all makes sense as a whole, then it’s time to wrap things up with example applications.
Show real examples of how the identity comes into life: business cards, stationery, website design etc.
The goal of this section is to show people how all of these elements come together to help project a strong, unified brand image across different media.
I like to add at least a few pages with good-looking mockups at the end of each style guide I create, including things like:
Of course, every brand is different and therefore it will require different brand expression examples.
For example: my recent client Medihuanna is a B2B brand that relies heavily on PowerPoint presentations (they offer courses).
Therefore in their style guide I had to showcase a few examples of how these presentations can be designed.
The very last couple of pages of your style guide should include some information or links to download source files.
Add links to download the visual assets: logo files and other supporting graphics.
The most common reason why people ignore style guides is because they can’t find them or they can’t find the right source files.
That’s why I like to generate an interactive PDF that is available online and includes links to logo and other visual assets—all in one place.
I simply add a couple of pages at the end of each style guide with links to download the logo package and other visual assets like illustrations, icons etc.
You might be concerned about the fact that anyone can get their hands on your brand assets and potentially rip off your branding, but that’s rarely the case.
Every style guide should include verbiage along the lines:
As the last step, you might also want to ask someone to check out your style guide before you show it to everyone.
That way you can avoid unnecessary questions and comments about something that is missing or unclear.
You will also get an opportunity to catch on some mistakes, misspellings or errors that you simply couldn't see.
Share it with someone you trust, someone who is familiar with the brand to find out if it’s all clear and understandable.
Ultimately, a style guide is only valuable is it helps the people who work on the brand.
One of the most important documents any company can have is a brand style guide, yet many don’t have one.
Every company needs a solid style guide to ensure consistency across the board.
You can call them style guides, brand guidelines, brand bibles, brand books etc. but they’re all essentially the same thing—a document that guides people on how to use the brand.
They come in different format and length, some style guides are 100+ pages long, and some get away with just a few simple pages.
However, they all basically have the same function—to contain the necessary information to help you create everything your brand needs.
Whether it be a website, marketing materials, social media posts or other graphics, this document will make your life easier.
If style guides are so important, why don’t all designers create them?
The biggest reason is time and money—it's difficult to create a style guide because it requires a lot of time and effort.
And much more importantly, not every designers knows how to do it or wants to do it—it’s often a long and tedious process.
You can speed up your process from long weeks or months to just a few hours with my new product—The Brand Guidelines Kit
You will save a lot of time with my design-ready template, all the descriptions and annotations you need, master pages, paragraph styles and color swatches that you can customize fast and easy.
Also check out my other relevant articles:
Do you share a similar process of creating style guides for brands?—Leave a comment below.