Creating a Brand Style Guide

A brand style guide will take your brand values, ethos and motivations and codify them into a visual design language that you and your team can use to communicate your identity to your audience. This can then be applied to all your online and offline corporate branding, whether it’s your website or vehicle wraps for your fleet.

In this guide, I want to talk about the importance of brand style guides and what to think about when you are creating one.

Core Components of an Effective Brand Style Guide

You can’t create an effective style guide without first understanding every component of your brand. This includes:
1. Your Mission
In shaping your mission statement, it is important to convey the motivations behind your company and explain how you want your brand to evolve. These objectives could be large or small, but whether you want to change the world or solve a relatively minor problem, staying true to your brand is critical.
2. Your Personality
Describing your brand using a small handful of adjectives will help you to establish an appropriate tone and ensure that it’s clear whether your brand personality is classic or trend-focused, or whether your tone is polished or more eccentric. You might also find it helpful to curate a list of adjectives that don’t describe your brand.
3. Your Values
Your brand’s guiding principles will inform every action, decision and strategy you choose to pursue. Ensuring these values are as memorable as possible will make it much easier for you and your team to maintain a consistent and coherent brand identity.
4. Your Audience
Understanding your audience is essential to understanding your brand. Many up and coming brands make the mistake of thinking they understand their audience and what they like, without any real hard data to back this up. Make sure you have this data and, with it, a firm understanding of what your audience likes and dislikes.
These components communicate who you are to the world and most of the most successful brands have a clear visual style. Take Apple for example. We all immediately know when we are consuming a message from this leading tech company, which proves its meticulous style guidelines are effective and extremely powerful (and well worth a browse).


A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating a Powerful Brand Style Guide


Maintaining a consistent brand personality is key if you want your audience to trust you. Inconsistency can be confusing and alienating, so although you will likely have many people working across your marketing, sales, design and customer service teams, a style guide will ensure that your brand always looks, feels, and sounds the same.
Here are the crucial areas to consider when planning and writing your brand style guide.


Collect and Collate Inspiration


Creating visual mood boards or Pinterest boards filled with imagery that communicate the meaning behind your brand’s core values will create important reference points.
Consider:
What the brands you admire are doing well.
The email communications, advertisements and campaigns that have been successful for your brand in the past.
Whether there is any recurring feedback your team will find helpful.
As you might use some of the visuals you collate here within the brand voice or imagery segments of your style guide, making detailed notes now will streamline your future creative process.

The Six Components of Effective Style Guides


As soon as you have organised your inspiration, the next steps are to assimilate each element into a coherent guide that represents your brand by defining your:
Brand story: a summary that succinctly introduces who you are.
Logo: explaining how it will look within different environments, preventing avoidable errors, such as alignment or stretching issues.
Colour palette: how you will maintain a consistent identity and personality through colour. What do certain colours say about your brand?
Typography: detailing how your chosen typeface family meets your needs.
Imagery: describing how a specific visual style reflects your identity and intentions.
Voice: instilling confidence in your brand using an approachable and appealing tone.

Consider Other Elements That Need to be Defined

You will find that there are other elements, specific to your brand, that will benefit from further definition. So, for example, if you’re a digital brand you will need to define how you plan to arrange your imagery. If you sell physical products you might need to consider the guidelines that will explain what your product does or how it works.

Construct your Guide


It’s time to assimilate this information into a useful document. To do so, you might find the following structure helpful.
Story


  • Our brand.
  • What we do.
  • Our values, vision and objectives.
Logo


  • Our logo.
  • What it means.
  • How it should/shouldn’t be used.
Colour Palette


  • Our colour palette.
  • Swatches with accompanying HEX and CMYK codes.
Typography


  • Our fonts.
  • Why we chose them.
  • Our primary typeface.
  • Our secondary typeface.
Imagery


  • A selection of on-brand imagery.
  • How it should be presented.
Voice


  • Our tone.
  • A list of do’s and don’ts.

Consider Future Development


Your style guide is a living document and you will gain a better understanding of what works as you use it to inform key decisions and strategies. Set out time each month, quarter or year to make important refinements to further solidify the foundations of your identity.
Your brand is much more than the products you sell or the services you provide. Your identity is what will communicate to audiences that yours is a brand that can be trusted, so regardless as to whether you need a 100-page guide or a single page document, taking the time to set out the basic components of your brand will act as a critical reference document for every design project you want to undertake in the future.
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