A brand style guide is like the blueprint for your visual identity and website design. It includes all of your chosen design elements, serves as a set of design standards, and provides a foundation for the overall look and feel of your online presence across platforms and printed marketing collateral.
Establishing a consistent and cohesive brand bolsters your company’s brand recognition, reputation, and trustworthiness; so creating and following a brand style guide to stay on track with cultivating your brand equity is worth the time and effort.
Even if you work with an agency such as Solamar to create your brand, you will benefit from being involved in the process. We take our branding and website design clients through a series of steps that starts with a questionnaire and kickoff call; and it always helps to carefully consider what you want for your brand so you can bring your ideas to the table.
We suggest getting super clear on what kinds of designs you like and dislike by perusing other brands, both inside and outside of your industry. Examine style, color, fonts, and other elements so you can articulate specifically what turns you on and off about designs.
Creating a mood board on Pinterest is also a fun exercise to contribute to the brand development process–round up a collage of graphics, photographs, and colors to inspire the look and feel of your brand, and bring what you’ve gathered to the branding conversation.
Doing this work upfront will be valuable when partnering with a professional team to create your business brand; and once your brand is created, your brand style guide will become an important part of the overall brand building process.
Putting together this concise guide for your brand forces you to hone and define your visual style. It will serve as a quick reference that both you and your team can return to as needed. Having a framework in place saves time, helps eliminate decision fatigue, and allows everyone on board to reserve their creative juices for tackling other challenges–you will not need to approach each new design project from scratch.
Although your brand style guide is meant to serve you at-a-glance, it needs to be comprehensive enough to cover all important brand components. Here is a basic rundown of what should be included:
List specific primary and secondary colors and how they are to be used. Be sure to include the RGB, CMYK, and hex color code values for each color. For your website, specify colors for headlines, body text, links, backgrounds, and buttons, and stipulate how these colors should be used across all platforms. Otherwise, you’re likely to use similar colors with slightly different shades or tints, and you would be surprised how quickly the look and feel of your brand can become inconsistent and messy.
Identify which headline and body fonts are to be used on your website and in print. Suggest alternative fonts for cases in which the preferred font is not available. Be specific–list sizes and indicate allotted space between characters, lines of text, and blocks of text. Also, if applicable, include instructions about capital letters, bolding, and italicizing text. To the untrained eye, many fonts are similar and can be used interchangeably; however, lack of consistency in font usage makes your website and marketing materials look unprofessional. You might not be able to easily identify the problem, but mismatched fonts and irregular sizing are often the culprit when design looks sloppy.
Most likely, your logo will have several variations. You may use one logo for dark backgrounds, another for light backgrounds, one for the web, and one for print, one with a graphic, and one with text only, one horizontal, one vertical, etc. It’s also helpful to indicate information such as correct dimensions, minimum size for the logo to remain legible, and suggested spacing around logo. Your logo will be used on your website and across all platforms and mediums; it is one of the most important and recognizable elements of your visual brand. Making logo variations available and including instructions for proper logo usage in your brand style guide will help to maintain consistency for your brand. See MailChimp’s logo guidelines as an example.
Your website will contain photographs and a variety of graphical elements, and your brand’s overall use of imagery should be cohesive. Provide guidelines for the tone and feel of images to be used–edgy, friendly, warm, or simple. Should photography be bold, bright, saturated, soft, grunge, or vintage? Will graphics have borders and patterns? What about infographics and quote graphics–how should they look? Include examples. With the rise in visual brand storytelling on your website and social media such as Instagram, getting clear on how your brand uses imagery is becoming increasingly important in establishing a cohesive brand. It’s not uncommon to see inconsistent and even conflicting tone used in a brand’s imagery; so including criteria in your brand style guide takes you one step closer to building a more professional and valuable brand identity.
Big corporate brands often go to great lengths in detailing even the minutest design and messaging specifications in their brand style guides. For your small business brand, that would be overkill; but don’t skip the process altogether. Once you’ve invested time, money, and energy into creating a visual brand, it’s your job to protect it from slipping.
Your website and your brand are ever-evolving, and your branded marketing initiatives keep your business rolling; so do yourself a favor and create a basic brand style guide to keep everything on track. You’ll be glad you did; and we’d be happy to help if you give us a shout.