Any content distributed externally is governed by the style guide. Many enterprise organizations include internal communications as well to safeguard the brand and ensure consistency.
You may think that a style guide is unnecessary for a small company or a waste of time if you have only one designer working on your marketing. However, every brand should have a style guide to ensure every visual element produced is consistent. Remember, the designer you have today may not be there tomorrow and all of that knowledge acquired about the brand can evaporate.
Style guides can save you time, money and a ton of frustration down the road as they make your marketing efforts easier. Style guides empower all employees and partners as to how to manage your logo, colors and essentially, your brand. It provides instructions for exactly how things should be done, and sometimes even insight as to why they are done that way.
Once you create a style guide, share it. A style guide will be your brand Bible and should be shared with every potential user. The style guide is the how-to instructions to ensure a consistent brand.
The Basic Elements of a Style GuideEvery style guide is different as it depends on the complexity of the brand and the volume of marketing materials generated. There are, however, a few basic elements in every style guide.
Fonts. Every brand should have a consistent set of fonts, online and offline. Listing out the fonts with examples and character sets is important. Specify sizes, color. Differentiate from headlines, subheads and content. Define weights and even spacing.
Colors. The colors should be spelled out in as much detail as possible. This means offering up not only hex codes for web use, but equivalent CMYK and Pantone values for print. Not every color is transferable between web and print use so specify your preferences. For example, RGB color can vary drastically from CMYK.
Logo. Most logos lose their effect if displayed too small. You can provide an alternate, usually a simplified logo for small sizes or specify a minimum size. Define how much space needs to be around the logo. Outline if the logo can be displayed in alternate colors or in grayscale and what type of background can be used. Also specify if the logo can be placed inside a border or box and how much clear space is needed surrounding.
Imagery. Is there a specific icon or icon sets that should be used exclusively? Specific images that are commonly used? Include the icons so users have no reason to look elsewhere for a close match. Specify if you want certain imagery used. For instance, if a photo needs a specific color in your color palette or if a filter needs to be applied or if it needs to be in gray scale only. Share your images in a gallery so users have access to what is appropriate.
Content. Most style guides present a a certain tone in written communications. Certain words or phrases that should be used and should not be used (perhaps used by a competitor). Provide a 30-word, 50-word and 100-word description of the company and products. These descriptors can be used when introducing the company to company profiles on RFPs, trade show listings and so on.
Online Elements. Some web-specific elements won't work in print materials. This would include button styles and hierarchy or how form elements should appear. Keeping these things consistent across multiple pages or even multiple sites is a challenge without a clear set of rules to follow.
Templates. Often style guides provide presentation templates, design layouts for online and print materials, email signatures, letterhead and even business card guidelines. Many, like an email signature, can be easily copied and pasted directly into the email program. Consider including design layouts and grid standards used online and sometimes in print advertising.
Brand history, vision and personality information. This is more common in comprehensive style guides.
Social media guidelines including types of posts that are to be shared and the branding elements used on the social media sites.
A Living DocumentStyle guides change. They evolve over time. New logos are created, buttons redesigned. Marketing materials are updated with new products. Better images crafted. It's important that your style guides are updated in parallel with these updates. But, remember to keep retired guides as a reference and alert users to any updates.
The point of a style guide is to simplify and expedite the design process for all involved. Make sure that it lives up to that function, whether internal or public.
Many style guides are made public. Companies like Apple, Starbuck and others publish their style guides. So search for style guides and take a peek at a few. A style guide can save you considerable frustration in the long term. Here is one of many sites offering sample style guides.