You’ve probably heard it said before: clear communication is the key to business success. And while that may seem like an easy tenet to follow, it’s a bit more complex than it sounds.
You may think of communication as nothing but the words you say. As long as you’re getting the message across, it seems like the way you choose to do that shouldn’t matter. But that’s not the case. Everything you present—from the medium to the font you choose to the way you illustrate your points contribute to the overall success of the message.
Therefore, it’s important that you and your employees strive for consistency in all communication. The easiest way to make that happen is with a style guide.
What is a style guide?
In the simplest terms, a style guide is a document that lays out the nuts and bolts of your brand identity. Everyone in your company should have access to the document and should refer to it whenever creating brand assets.
Having a style guide helps to ensure consistency across your website, social pages, advertisements, print and digital assets, and anything else you share with someone internally and externally within your company. A strong style guide is both detailed enough for non-designers to follow and flexible enough to account for the many kinds of materials your company may craft.
Do I really need a style guide?
Branding isn’t just about using the same logo everywhere (though that’s important too). It’s about how you present yourself both online and offline. You should communicate your brand’s mission in everything you create and share with the world.
A style guide can’t guarantee that every communiqué from your team strikes the perfect tone…but it can help cut down on confusion or misrepresentation.
Style Guide: Essential Elements
Your style guide doesn’t need to be long or complex. In fact, with the five elements below, everyone on your team will have what they need to craft perfectly-branded communications.
Do you have a logo you’re in love with? If not, stop right here. Your logo is the foundation of both your brand and your style. If you’re ashamed to share it, no style guide will help.
Thankfully, there are a lot of online tools, like Canva’s logo maker or Hatchful, that can help you put together a modern and beautiful logo you’re happy to share. Once you have the perfect logo (and all the file variations that you may need), you can move forward with your style guide.
Times New Roman might not convey the right feel for your brand, but that doesn’t mean your team should choose fonts at random. Part of making your communications look cohesive is a consistent use of the same fonts or font families across all materials and assets.
Whichever font(s) you choose, they must go well with your logo and overall creative direction. You can see which fonts the world’s best designers are using and combining on sites like Typewolf. Once you’ve found a look you like, check out Google Fonts or Adobe Fonts for a selection of free, trendy fonts.
Like your brand’s fonts, your brand colors should complement your logo and aesthetic. They should lend themselves to different uses (page background vs. title, body text vs. quote text) and establish your brand’s mood. Don’t use too many—we recommend choosing 2-3 and making sure that your text color(s) are readable.
Once you have an idea of what you want, there are some great web tools to help you pull the perfect palette together. Check out this random color palette collection for inspiration, or try Canva’s Color Palette Generator to pull dominant colors from one of your favorite pics.
Once you have your brand colors locked down, be sure to write down the hex codes, or you’ll have trouble re-creating the exact hues you’ve chosen.
Patterns & Textures
You may not use patterns & textures as frequently as fonts and colors, but it’s a good idea to have some on hand to spice up your designs. As with the elements above, these assets should match your brand’s established creative direction. You can find some great options at Wild Textures or by searching your favorite free stock image site.
Whether you’re linking to your social accounts or illustrating common concepts, your team should have a defined set of symbols to use for maximum cohesion.
Build Your Style Guide
Once you have all the assets in one place, it’s time to put your guide together!
Creating the Document
There’s no “right” format for a style guide. As long as it’s easily readable and accessible by everyone on your team, you can choose whatever works best for you.
For a simple guide, use Google Docs or a word processing program.
If you want to branch out, Powerpoint or Keynote create beautiful and easy-to-navigate documents.
If you want your guide to look as stylish as all your future brand assets, try any of these great design tools to put together a professional-looking document.
Once you have the outline created with room for all the above elements, be sure to add a table of contents for easy navigation when sharing with team members.
Adding the Elements
You’ve already done the hard part of creating your company’s style. Now, you just have to put it all in one place. For each element, you should include the following:
The Basics: clear titles for each element.
The Details: when, where, and how this element should be used.
Examples: what this element should (or should not) look like.
Location: where your team members can find the assets (we suggest setting up a shared team folder).
What Details Do I Need?
Your style guide should communicate to a newcomer what to do in any situation—but it’s just as important to communicate what not to do. Walk team members through how assets can and cannot be used by answering questions such as…
Can your logo and assets be manipulated (re-sized, re-colored, flipped, etc.)?
Are there restrictions on how you use your brand fonts—for example, the weight, line height, letter spacing, or case in a specific instance? Do you want one font to only be used as a header, and one to only be used for body text?
Do you want to use textures and patterns for digital communications, or are they only for print pieces? Do you use them rarely, or every day? Provide an example.
You may need to update use cases as you run across new scenarios, but the more details you can add right off the bat, the better.
Using Your Style Guide
Once you have your style guide ready to go, the only thing left is to put it into action. Make sure it lives in a central location that everyone can access (and make a backup for yourself, just in case). If having a style guide is new to your company, it may be a good idea to send out an email or have a quick meeting to introduce the guide and its purpose, go over the document, and give some examples of when and how to use it.
With a clear set of rules that apply to all communications, uniformity will be in reach. There may be a few trial-and-error situations as you learn how to apply your style guide for best results, but you and your clients will both notice the increased consistency in everything you present.