13 Things to keep in mind while designing a Style Guide

Branding is an intense and time-consuming process involving multiple individuals who put in careful and well thought out efforts. Different departments need one official and authoritative document that helps them streamline their communication so that all the outgoing communication maintains the same tone and consistency – both in terms of design and messaging. This helps the consumers to identify and reinforce the brand image.

We have been designing Style guidelines for various brands over the past few years and have learned a lot through our experience. Designing a style guide, we realized, is like an act of cooking: you need just the right ingredients and the recipe that goes with them in order to prepare the perfect dish.

Our job is to set the ingredients in the right place, with the right quantity, and the right timing. It’s also our job to decide what other new dishes we can make up using the same ingredients. So we decided to jot down few things that need to consider when you are designing a brand guide book.

1. Look for examples and references
Before you jump into designing a style guide, make sure you collect and have a look to references and examples of it. We would suggest you to check it out other similar brands, their messaging and visual tone. Ask youself: “How did they do it?”

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2. Think creatively
Your extension of your creativity needs to reflect on the style guide. It should have its own guidelines applied to it and communicate the brand simply and effectively. There’s no rule that says it has to be in PDF format – look for other online display options which can be presentable. Think creatively, but don’t over complicate.

3. Use the right tone – both for visuals and messaging
The tone plays an important role in both of the messaging and the visuals. The tone the style guide takes should ideally be similar to the brand’s own tone. In this way it should help to communicate who the brand’s audience are and showcase how the spoken vision aligns to the visual one. Hand-in-hand these both effectively communicate the brand.

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4. Work with a copywriter
We believe a copywriter could only help the designer to express their creative messages, in addition to energising and communicating the brand, the brand spirit, the reason behind the work, the purpose of the style guide and what the brand goals are.

5. Style Guide is a Cookbook
Your Style Guide should serve as a holy text for any other agency, freelancer or company who is working with the brand you developed it for. They should allow for the brand virality and establish an overall framework. A style guide is similar to a cookbook which is full of brand recipes and ingredients that work well together and create a tasteful blend of flavours.

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6. Concentrate on the visible
You had better concentrate on the visible and the relevant. Try not to go deep into creating colour palettes and useless graphic elements all around which might never be used or seen. For example, look around, you will see people who look presentable and are nicely dressed, but they might not have matching socks and underwear or matching ties and hankies. Who cares?!

7. Less is more
Too much information could also kill the ability to understand, make sure each rule you add to your design style guide is important and necessary. It’s no good giving the reader so much information which that they can’t remember all of it.

8. Be helpful and specific
Mention helpful and practical advice in your guide. For example, if you are using a particular type of Photoshop image treatment then think about adding a page to your style guide that explains exactly how to do this. Another example is the watermark logo on an image: you need to explain how much transparency used in percentage to keep it consistent all over.

9. Create template examples
The guide also needs to include template styles and direction, such as web banners, web mock ups, social media creatives etc. This is a great way to showcase how the guide can be interpreted. Also consider supplying these files for download with the style guide.

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10. Recheck copy mistakes/grammar
Make sure you recheck the guide before sending it out to the client. What makes you look awfully silly are typos and bad grammar. Now you can bring in a copywriter to help you out, let him or her read the guide for you and ask them to point out anything that isn’t clear or need further explanation.

11. Explain typography choice
Try at least give two fonts: One primary font and the secondary. The primary font will be your logo font, and can also be used for headings and titles. The secondary font will be used for body copy, presentations, etc. When choosing a secondary font, keep in mind that long and very fine serifs break up on screens. Sans serif fonts are best for on-screen reading.
In addition, we would suggest you web fonts so that it creates no issues in web and app use in the future

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12. Collateral prototypes
Giving and showing the collateral examples of how the logo and the graphics will look like when applied over the collaterals shows the client you’re thought about future proofing your work as well as covering off the potential that your guidelines aim because all brand may one day need an indication or a direction of what print, outdoor or broadcast collateral could look like

13. Do(s) and Don’t(s)
Lastly, If you are a designer and you have been working on branding & brand guidelines, you already know what needs to be done and what should be avoided. Set Limitations! Right? So it’s your job to make them precise and let others understand the so(s) and don’t(s) of the brand. You can’t give anyone the freedom to stretch your logo, recolor it or put it anywhere they want in future production. That’s why you need to point out things which can/can’t be done regarding the logo, logo placement and sizes, the brand colors, typeface, etc.
Show visual examples of what is doable and another example of which is not doable. These make it easier for people to understand the guidelines.

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Regardless of the brand you’re creating a style guide for, guidelines should never be so strict that they end up limiting creativity. But they should be clear and stern enough to not let a brand’s communication become too varied. Guidelines should help the brand evolve and easily adapt to any new creative or business direction the brand might take in the future.

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