A style guide is a document that acts as your design bible. It summarizes your higher purpose, vision, and target audience, and provides rules and guidelines for brand elements, design, and messaging to make sure everything you create tells the same story. This includes everything from your website and marketing materials to internal business documents and sales presentations.
The style guide will tell you how to use your logo, what colours to use, what fonts to use, what tone of voice to use in messaging and beyond. It’ll help you strengthen your brand, support your marketing strategy, and guide your decisions.
In this article, we’ll outline why you need a style guide, what you need to know before you create one, what to include in your style guide, and how to use it.
Why You Need a Style Guide
Every business needs a style guide – no matter the size. It will help you make your brand more impactful, which is particularly important in the early days of a business trying to establish itself and build a customer base.
Here’s how a style guide helps:
- A style guide helps you differentiate yourself: It gives you a framework to follow that effectively promotes your brand’s core values, personality, and purpose.
- A style guide strengthens your brand: Brands are memorable when they’re consistent. A style guide will give you a framework to adhere to and ensure consistency across all your marketing and business channels. You don’t want people to mistake you for a new brand every time you show up. This helps you stand out in a busy social media feed and start to get recognized by your target audience.
- A style guide simplifies design: Any team member or freelancer working for you will be able to reference the guide, so everything ends up looking like it’s from the same place.
- A style guide saves you time: You won’t have to start from scratch and design something new every time – there’s already a guide in place. You can even create templates to help you save more time and money.
What to Know Before Creating Your Style Guide
Know Who Your Brand Is at Heart
Before getting into design or messaging, you need to know what story you’re trying to tell. If you don’t do this, you’ll fall into the trap of designing your brand based on trends, not strategy.
Design choices shouldn’t be based on trends or random interests – if you’re trying to fit into existing trends, you won’t stand out from them. If your design is too trendy, it could become outdated fast.
Design choices shouldn’t be based on personal preferences either – they should be based on what will resonate with your customer.
Here’s an example of what we mean by that:
Imagine a founder of a mobile spa. Her tagline is “we bring the relaxation to you”. She loves the colour red and wants it incorporated into her brand design. Does this make sense?
Probably not. Red is a loud and aggressive colour. It isn’t relaxing as a spa should be and won’t resonate with her target audience looking for calm. Her brand would be more impactful with soothing colours, like soft blues and greens.
Design choices should be intentional. They need to reflect who your company is and appeal to the people it exists for.
The elements of your brand should have lasting power while also encompassing what’s unique about your business. Every element of a brand from colour choice, to font to imagery tells a story. It’s important you choose elements that tell the story properly.
To achieve this, you need to establish a few core aspects of your brand that will then inform design choices. Start with wild idea’s brand foundation workshop to help you determine:
- Brand Belief & Purpose: The heart of your brand is your brand belief and purpose. Why does your target audience need your brand? What does your brand exist to solve? You can also include your mission and vision – what you intend to accomplish, and where you intend to take your business.
- Target Audiences: Who is this brand for? What do they care about and why would they care about your brand? What do they like? What unmet needs do they have that you solve?
- Brand Values: What are the guiding principles of your brand? What do you stand for? Why does it matter?
- Brand Personality: Your brand needs a consistent identity. How do you describe your brand? Is it lighthearted and fun, or straightforward and professional? What adjectives describe your brand’s personality in a way that resonates with your audience?
- The more solidified your brand strategy is, the more effective your brand design can be.
What to Include in Your Style Guide and How to Get Started
The goal of a style guide is to establish a standard of design and messaging principles/assets for your business to follow to ensure consistency. The more consistent you are in your design and messaging, the easier it is to recognize and remember.
Your style guide is a document anyone on your team (especially new hires and freelancers down the line) can reference as they create new documents to make sure they’re unified and stay true to the heart of the business.
You might want to work with a professional designer or branding expert to help establish these core elements of your brand, design a logo and support creating your style guide. Your style guide is a living document that will be referenced for years to come, so you want to make sure it’s done right.
Here’s what your style guide should include:
- Brand belief and purpose: The style guide should lead with your brand belief and higher purpose, which is the primary guide for your brand and business.
- Customer persona: You want to understand who your ideal customer is, so you’re confident that your design and messaging will resonate with this persona. The style guide should include a description of your audience along with a profile of your buyer persona so readers understand who they’re trying to reach.
- Brand personality and tone of voice: Your style guide should include the few adjectives that describe the personality of your brand and give a sense of what kind of tone/messaging to use in materials. Whether your brand is more lighthearted and appealing to younger audiences or more traditional and professional, your copy needs to reflect it. The style guide should make it clear what kind of messaging and tone to use across all materials. It should also establish what kind of editing, grammar and punctuation guidelines to adhere to when writing content.
- Mood board: A mood board is a digital collage of inspiring imagery, colour swatches and other ideas that capture the aesthetic and energy of your brand. It helps give a sense of why certain brand assets are being used and what they’re trying to convey. Once you know your buyer person and brand personality, you can use a mood board to help bring it to life and inform design for the logo, colour palette and other design elements. A platform like Pinterest can be used as a starting point when first putting together your mood board.
- Logos: The style guide should include various versions of your logo, along with directions on how and when they can be used. E.g., a primary black version, a secondary white version, versions with/without a background, a favicon for your website, and associated spacing, background and colour rules. Canva is a great free tool for creating logo designs and other design assets. But be wary of going with templated logos – your competitors and other brands have access to these free tools too. You don’t want to be mistaken for another brand, especially a competitor. You also want to look professional. If you want people to invest in your business as a customer or investor, it’s often worth investing in brand design.
- Colour palette: Every brand has a few core colours – primary colours and accent colours that are used across all materials. The colours should help set the tone of the brand and represent its personality. The style guide should list these colours along with information on when and how they should be used, along with accompanying hex colour codes so anyway can easily pull the exact colour. If applicable, you’ll want to include brand patterns/illustrated elements as well. Again, when coming up with colour choices, you’ll want to think about the emotions they convey.
- Brand fonts: The guide should list what fonts to use in business documents, including font types, sizes and heading styles to ensure a unified look across all your materials. You should only use 2-3 different fonts, such as one for header text and one for body text.
- Photography style: Similar to the colour palette and brand fonts and following the inspiration of the mood board and brand personality, the style guide should include examples of what kind of photography is to be used to represent the brand and where it can be accessed.
- Mock-ups: Finally, the style guide should include mock-ups showing how the style guide would be applied in various use cases. This can include mock-ups of a website, a document, letterhead, promotional products, banners, social media posts and more. This will help readers get a sense of what their deliverable should look like following the style guide.
HubSpot has a great list of 21 Brand Style Guide Examples from major brands including Spotify, Urban Outfitters and NASA to give you a sense of some other style guides out there and what they include. The Content Marketing Institute also includes some great tips to further help you when creating a style guide.
If you’re looking for added support, wild idea co. can help you outline key elements to put together your style guide.