It’s important as an entrepreneur to consider how your company is perceived. Shoppers should feel confident in you, your products and their overall shopping experience. A great way to achieve this trust is by establishing solid branding for your company. Solid branding gives legitimacy to your company and keeps your business feeling consistent across all entities including web, print, press, social media and even your packaging and shipping methods. The best way to organize your branding principles is through a style guide.
Before we jump into the style guide essentials, let’s first cover an important question. What is branding? Entrepreneur Media defines branding as “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” In essence, it’s how you market and present yourself to your customers. Your branding gives shoppers an idea of who you are, what you do, and is the overall impression they get of you.
A style guide is a handy resource that encapsulates all of your branding. Think of your style guide as a recipe that requires equal parts of written and visual cues to create a delicious entrée, or in other words, your brand! Your style guide outlines the predetermined principles and guidelines of your brand to ensure your business maintains a consistent identity.
Dissecting the Style Guide
There are usually two main parts of a style guide — a writing section and a visual section. While it’s very important to document your company’s tone and voice, grammar etiquette and word usage (amongst other things), today we’re going to dive into the visual section. There are a handful of key elements needed to craft an effective design style guide, so let’s jump right in.
The primary goal when creating a logo is for it to be the first thing people think of when they reflect on your brand. It’s important to establish rules for logo applications in your style guide so that your business’ logo remains in tact. This consistency will help people identify your brand and its values.
At minimum, your style guide should include appropriate logo usage cases for:
• Placement on a dark background
• Placement on a light background
• Spacing between elements (ex: distance between the logo and an image)
• Layout variations (ex: horizontal versus vertical applications)
Feel free to throw in some general best practices, too. Don’t want your logo stuck with a drop shadow? Mention it in your style guide! Hate the idea of your logo being squished and distorted? Say so in your style guide! Your logo is the face of your company. Don’t be afraid to set lengthy guidelines to control your image.
Let’s face it — most of the communications with your customers will be through type. This means you definitely want for it to look good. Since type is such a critical branding element, it’s important to choose the right font(s) that will not only make a great impression of your brand, but feel consistent with your goals and personality.
Use your style guide to identify the name(s) of the font(s) you’re using and where to obtain them. Google Fonts is a great resource with lots of free fonts that are easily accessible and web friendly. While considering fonts for your brand, remember that fonts inherently embody moods and feelings. For example, if you want your brand to be upscale and sophisticated, consider using a serif font. For a modern flair try introducing a sans serif font. Ultimately it comes down to what you want your company to represent and what best feels right for it.
Outline 1-2 fonts maximum so that your brand looks polished and not busy. Dictate their placement and usage such as body copy and headlines. Everywhere your brand goes, you want to make sure the type treatment is the same.
The most important visual element aside from your logo is your color palette. Color is an incredibly valuable tool in crafting your brand because it plays a large role in how your brand is perceived, its memorability, and its potential to attract your target market to begin with. If you are struggling with curating your brand’s colors—don’t sweat it! There are some great online tools to help you along the way. Learning about color theory will help you get started, and Coolors is a great tool that assists in generating color schemes.
As a rule of thumb, select just a few colors for simplicities sake. Once you have identified the colors that are right for your brand, be sure to include them in your style guide by providing the:
• Color swatch
• HEX code
• CMYK value
• RGB value
• Pantone number (if possible)
Colors and fonts are wonderful and critical elements of your branding, but what’s really going to add life to your brand is imagery. Identifying appropriate imagery in your style guide will help anybody who touches your brand understand what types of photography flatter and showcase your brand in the best way.
Perhaps the easiest way to show this in your style guide is by creating a mood board. Compile a small collection of images that clearly convey what your brand embodies and present it in a mood board format. Perhaps your brand is minimal and chic so you opt for simple images with solid colored backgrounds. Find some similar images and place them on your mood board! Maybe you run a children’s clothing boutique and the imagery should be colorful and full of energy with lifestyle photography. Show it in your style guide!
My Style Guide is Finished — Now What?
Congratulations! Your brand is well on it’s way to make it’s mark on the world. A style guide empowers you as an entrepreneur to keep your brand aligned and polished no matter where it goes. As I mentioned earlier, consistency in branding adds a major trust value. It makes you look legitimate, professional and enticing. Lucky for you, your design style guide is complete and is a step in the right direction.
Whether you’re a one person team managing it all on your own (kudos to you!), you work on a team with multiple people, or you contract freelancers, collaborators or third parties, you now have a design style guide to consult for all your branding needs.