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What is a brand style guide?

Billy Fenton

There are a number of different elements that make up a successful brand identity, from tone of voice and values, to the company’s internal culture. At the forefront of any identity are the visual branded assets, which play a key role in establishing a memorable brand that consumers will want to come back to again and again.

One of the secrets to creating a successful and powerful brand identity is consistency of implementation. It’s one thing to create a visually stunning brand, however for it to be long-lasting and memorable you need to go beyond. By investing time and resources into the way your identity is executed, it will help increase the value of your brand. This is where a brand style guide becomes an invaluable tool.

 

What is a brand style guide?

A brand style guide is a useful tool that combines all of the elements which form a brand’s identity. Generally consisting of elements such as logos, colour palette, typography and image treatment. They also have the potential to dive deeper into other brand components, such as defining standards around language and tone of voice — giving the brand added personality.

Additionally, the style guide will include details on implementation in a variety of different settings to ensure consistency and accessibility, as it is likely to be used by a wide range of different teams and users throughout a company.

 

Why invest in a brand style guide?

Brand style guides help businesses to build a consistent visual language across all platforms and mediums. Consistency is a vital part of establishing a strong brand presence. Not only will it help customers to easily identify and recognise a brand amongst an ocean of competitors, but it will also deliver a brand experience that customers feel they can trust, by laying the foundations for a unified voice and identity.

What should a brand style guide include?

Logo

The most noticeable asset of any brand is the logo. As the face of the brand, its implementation is critical to how it is perceived by audiences. To consistently implement a logo successfully, standards such as sizing, spacing, colour and position must be clearly defined.

Example of the Make it Clear logo

Colour and typography

Use of colour in a brand setting is key to defining the tone of voice. When applying colour, it is paramount to define what the primary and secondary colour palettes are. Generally, primary palettes describe the core brand, while secondary colours serve as accents to provide flexibility across a multitude of mediums.

Another point to consider is accessibility. How do your brand colours work in different scenarios and for individual users? Every strong, long-lasting brand has this at its core. This can be achieved by defining rules around colour usage for certain scenarios and checking colour combinations meet the 4.5:1 accessibility ratio.

In terms of typography, a style guide should outline all the typefaces to be used within a brand, indicating weights and styles for instances such as headings, sub-headings and body copy. To reinforce these typographic rules, it is good practice to also include a working example of the typographic system.

Example of a colour palate
Example of a type face

Iconography and graphic elements

Iconography and graphic elements play an important role in extending the brand across digital platforms. For example, buttons can use colour coding to identify different states of use to ensure brand consistency across all parts of the user experience.

With regards to iconography, the style guide will describe how to construct icons, considering variables such as a grid and stroke weight, as well as commentary on how they should be styled and colourised.

Imagery

Businesses often utilise social media to extend their audience reach and will use imagery and supporting treatments to represent their brand. The role of the style guide is to provide guidelines on how images are chosen, what they should include and if there are any specific treatments that could be implemented. Carefully considered bespoke imagery will add personality and an authentic quality to any brand.

Language

The use of language plays a critical role in any brand experience. It gives it a voice, sets the tone, provides personality and helps customers to get a feel for the brand’s values. In order to establish consistency, the style guide will provide instructions on writing style and tone of voice.

An example of language applied on a direct mail example for Make it Clear

Maintaining brand consistency

The principal role of a style guide is to ensure consistency across the entire brand during the design and content creation processes. It also allows users easy access to all of the brand assets in one place, benefiting businesses by streamlining the creation process and making implementation clear and concise.

Conversely, a good style guide should also highlight inconsistencies to look out for and how to avoid brand dilution and misrepresentation. This may include showing examples of how brand elements should not look or be used. Identifying areas of potential inconsistencies will help to strengthen the cohesion across the brand, ultimately reinforcing brand recognition and playing an important part in building customers’ trust.

Allowing brand flexibility

Great brand identities utilise their visual assets in a flexible way that provide longevity and an ability to always feel fresh. To allow for this, it is important to think about the style guide more as a set of guidelines or considerations, rather than a set of strict rules. By establishing strict rules across an entire identity, a brand can run the risk of backing itself into a corner, where options are limited. By adding variation, the brand will have space to move, evolve and adapt to a multitude of topics and mediums. Conversely, there are certain areas of the style guide that will need stricter rules and these areas generally include the typographic system, logo usage and the use of language. The recommended practice is to establish a mix of flexible and strict guidelines that allow the brand to be adaptable, cohesive and long-lasting.

Additionally, by prioritising usability and an intuitive navigation system through clear categorisations, search functionalities, and interactive elements that guide users through the document will significantly enhance the experience, especially for users who are unfamiliar with design or branding principles.

The future of brand style guides

With new technologies, faster working processes and our ever-evolving relationship with the digital world, it only makes sense that the way we use branding will evolve too — digitisation is simply not enough. Brand style guides need to move beyond static documents and become dynamic, interactive experiences.

One solution to facilitate this is animation as it has the potential to play a crucial role in enhancing the user experience of the style guides. Elements such as transitions, visual demonstrations, and interactive animations can break down complex concepts into more digestible, engaging and easier to use pieces. Utilising a dynamic storytelling approach will help users to grasp the brand’s visual language and become more confident in the implementation of the identity across various touchpoints.

By embracing interactivity, animation and user-friendly design, brand style guides can become fluid living resources that empower users to consistently uphold the brand’s identity across multiple channels. Not only will this broaden the users understanding of the brand’s visual language, but will also allow it to strengthen its connection with an audience.


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