Design style guides: Why you need one and how to make one

Design style guides: Why you need one and how to make one

Whether you’re in the initial stages of building your brand or you’re well established and undertaking an overhaul, a design style guide is well worth considering.

Although it’s a non-trivial outlay in terms of both time and money, the headaches and expenses a design style guide can save you later on (starting pretty soon, actually) are tremendous. And beyond providing a template for consistent visual representation across the various media in which your branding will appear, creating a style guide will force you to make conscious decisions about exactly how every part of your company identity looks in every context—and why it looks that way.

A style is more than your logo, Check out this Stasi Museum style guide for seat cushions. © Anagoria 2012 (CC BY 3.0)Why go to the trouble of doing all of this? Because chances are, your brand identity is going to be handled by different people at different times. In addition to good file management and annotation, having a single comprehensive guide will make it much more likely that your website, social media profiles, print materials, signage and merchandise all convey a consistent and recognizable identity.

Most of us think of a company’s brand as its logo. A good branding package is more than a logo; it also includes brand colours, associated images, fonts and so on. And it also usually includes a set of guidelines about how the logo should be used, in what contexts it may (and may not!) appear, whether it’s permissible to modify the logo to suit different needs (and in what way) and how the logo and other branding elements may appear in a variety of different environments. It might, for example, specify how the logo should appear in full-colour ads, in black and white, on business cards and so on.

These two guides are pretty comprehensive regarding exactly what goes into a normal style guide. They also provide plenty of examples, showing you the range of formats and specifications that major companies include in their documents. Standard things are font choices, reference images with sizing and usage guidelines, important “don’ts,” and colour palettes with both RGB and CMYK values. This post from Design Shack includes similar information and examples, plus a handy checklist of what a normal “brand bible” tends to include.

You’ll notice that basically all of the examples provided are for massive companies. It may seem hard to relate—not every company can afford to hash out its logo usage guidelines as thoroughly as Adobe, or provide a menagerie of pre-approved stock assets like Skype does. Don’t let that stop you, though; Talk Science is a pretty small start-up, but we have a lean and efficient style guide that keeps the company identity recognizable and coherent across all platforms. If you start out with a bunch of assets that don’t match and no clear rules for applying them, bringing order into your branding is going to be a much bigger project later on. But if you get the basics down now, you can add special requirements and additional assets as time goes on.

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