What is a Brand Style Guide and why is it important?
A brand style guide is an important part of every brand identity project. It’s the place where all the voice and visual assets culminate together into a cohesive, flexible identity system that serves as a launchpad for all future projects.
A good brand style guide will define the key brand identity ingredients and demonstrate how they’re manifested in different mediums and contexts. It gives you a framework for expressing your brand in ways that are cohesive yet flexible, with enough parameters to maintain consistency without getting overly rigid with execution rules.
Generally, a brand style guide (sometimes referred to as brand guidelines, or when printed, a brand bible) will define your:
- Mission-critical messaging. Along with all the visual assets, your brand style guide should include your brand’s foundational messaging and language. What’s the brand story or narrative that threads everything together? This can often include mission statements, core values, personality traits, and tone of voice. These belong at the front of the document to set the stage for everything else.
- Color palette. This should include PMS, RGB, CMYK and HEX numbers, as well as primary or secondary designations and usage suggestions.
- Fonts/Typography. This should include what fonts to use for headlines, subheads, body copy, call-to-actions, etc. We believe it’s important not to get too rigid here and try to specify exact point sizes for the different font types. Having a flexible typography system is important for application in different contexts. Also, don’t forget about potential variations from print to web — if your print fonts aren’t available for web-use, a good alternative should be defined.
- Logo variations. You almost always have logo variations to account for such as vertical, horizontal, wordmark-only, icon-only, etc. Additionally, you should create and define options that include 3-color, 2-color, 1-color, reversed, and b&w versions. A thoughtful designer will always create, save and organize these for you to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible.
- Logo usage. What’s the smallest your logo should be? How much whitespace should be safeguarded around it? Can you add a drop shadow? What about backgrounds? Some simple parameters are critical to ensuring your identity is always portrayed consistently in every context.
- Iconography. Not every brand needs icons, but if yours does there should be a standard design style defined to maintain consistency.
- Photography. What type of photos match and properly portray your brand aesthetic and emotion? Things to consider are color-tone, studio/portrait vs. unposed/in-the-real-world, depth of field, subject matter, and the like. Creating even a basic set of criteria will go a long way in keeping a consistent feel to your print and digital materials.
- Patterns and/or textures. What are the unique patterns or textures that can be used to add depth and personality and ultimately strengthen brand distinction? Often used sparingly, these can be an important part of expressing your brand’s personality.
- Application. Last but not least, a brand style guide will often include examples of how the brand identity is executed in the real world. This can include simple guidelines associated with website design, packaging variables, merch or swag, social media templates, etc. Often at the end of a brand style guide, this section provides demonstrations and real-world examples of how to execute on your brand style guide and bring it to life.
Your brand style guide can be the lifeline of your brand, ensuring consistency and cohesiveness. However, it’s important to keep it simple and fluid — guidelines that try to do too much can quickly become overly rigid, hamstringing creativity and hampering identity expression more than helping.
If you think of your brand as a person, it helps to leave space for personality depth and variances for different contexts. An adaptive brand is a healthy brand, ready to create nuanced yet consistent experiences with its consumers at every touchpoint and interaction along the way.
But it can’t be done without a thoughtful, strategic brand style guide.