Key Elements of a Brand Style Guide
A brand style guide is the one tool you need to keep your brand identity consistent. Whether you’re building social media graphics, writing an email to a client or tweaking your website, having this document in place will ensure that your brand elements are used correctly and appropriately every time. This helpful resource should answer any possible questions that might come up when organizing your brand assets — which is a lot of information. If you’re building the document for your business, here is a quick overview of exactly what you should include.
Your logo is the most recognizable focal point of your business — so the way it is used should always, always, always appear the same. Consider these questions when organizing this section of your brand style guide...
When and where should variations of your logo be used? For example, is the version of the logo on your website the same as your Instagram profile or printed marketing materials?
How should your logo appear on a dark vs. light background? Can it be placed over a photo
What color variations and design treatments (such as drop shadows and gradients) are acceptable, and just as important, unacceptable?
How much space should be around your logo? In order to keep your logo prominent on marketing materials (especially if there are other competing elements), you should give your logo a healthy amount of breathing room.
Color can be just as important in building brand recognition as your logo. Imagine if Tiffany & Co had a marketing mix up and used a blue that wasn’t the exact shade of Tiffany blue. Even their most loyal audience would be confused about which brand was speaking to them. When assembling your style guide, at minimum include the color values of your palette for print (CMYK) and web (RGB or hex) to avoid any mix ups. (Yes, I realize that last sentence was chock-full of designer-speak — here’s an article that translates those phrases to English.)
Additionally, think about the application of these colors. Should one color be used sparingly or only in call to action buttons? What color should be used for headings? Again, you want to answer as many potential questions as you can.
You want to use a small selection (probably 2-3) typefaces and fonts throughout your branding. Generally, one should be for headings, another for body copy and a third as an accent or to highlight information. Since your brand probably has some degree of online presence, make sure these fonts are web-friendly (check out GoogleFonts or TypeKit if you need some help with this!)
The treatment of fonts is a whole nother blog post, but make sure you outline any specific rules, such as letter spacing (called kerning in the design world) and line-height (or leading if you want to get fancy). When, if ever, should text appear in all caps? All lowercase? Should bold or italic fonts be used for emphasis? Define when and where in your guide, rather than leave it up to a project by project basis.
If your brand uses custom icons, illustrations or patterns, make sure to define how these assets are used in your brand’s style guide. Where and how these elements are used should be consistent. For example, do you use your brand patterns sparingly to draw attention to something? Should icons be used frequently to guide readers and make information easily digestible? Even something as simple as “we use an underline as a graphic element to draw attention to certain phrases” can be important.
Photography & Imagery
Yes, images are a part of your overall brand strategy and design. Photographs can convey their own emotions and can influence the viewer's perception just like any other element of your brand. Should images be edited in a certain style (i.e. minimal and bright or muted and moody)? Should your brand’s photos be in color or black and white?
When using styled or stock photography, answering these questions will help you select images that are cohesive with the rest of your brand identity. Establishing guidelines also be helpful if you will have custom photographs taken — what type of photographer should you book and what should their work look like? What time of images will “flow” with the elements already in place?
Bonus: Voice & Tone
Even though your voice and writing style aren’t visual elements, this is an important aspect to include in your brand style guide, especially if you have multiple team members writing content or marketing materials for your brand. Is your tone friendly and casual, or more corporate and authoritative? Think about every point of contact your audience has with your brand and what that voice should sound like.
Still not sure where to begin? This post has 50 great examples from notable brands to get the gears turning.