What goes in a brand guideline?
When we first start working with a new client, one of the first things to come up is a brand guideline or style guide. Whether we are working on a relatively simple project like designing new product packaging for an expansion into a new market or working on something more complex like developing and implementing high-impact online e-business opportunities on a larger scale, it is important for us to understand our client’s brand; what differentiates them from their competition, the essence of the brand voice, and even the simple visual indicators that define an element of the client’s specific brand. A brand guideline is a key tool in ensuring consistency in both brand voice and visual identity.
Despite the importance of this powerful marketing tool, brand guidelines are often overlooked by businesses of all sizes. From smaller drop-shipping companies to enterprise-level corporations, many clients come to us without formal brand guidelines in place. Some come with a set of logo files scattered across different folders and emails, while others come with the beginnings of a guide; perhaps a set of logo variants and one or two preferred fonts. If this sounds reminiscent of your own operation, rest assured, you are in good company. It is not uncommon for business owners to be unaware of the impact that a brand guideline has on the quality of marketing collateral, or even what component parts should be included in a fully built-out set of guidelines. What are those component parts? And where do you start? We are here to fill in some of the blanks.
The elements most businesses need
When creating any public-facing representation of a company, there are some basic brand elements that must be known. Defining these elements is typically where we start before any design work can commence. Elements like typography and colour palette are built out to include formal rules that form the building blocks of consistent design:
Typography: A basic set of brand guidelines should include 1 to 2 fonts with approximately 8 size and weight variants. The variants allow a designer to pair consistent styles with elements such as headings, copy text, and image captions.
Colour Palette: What are the brand colours? If there is a company red or a company blue, the basic brand guidelines ensure that the same red or the same blue is used across all published materials. A basic brand guideline should include primary, secondary, and tertiary colours as well as 1 or more accent colours.
UI Variations: Building out consistent colours even farther is important for applications such as eCommerce where a wider range of styles is required to ensure an adequate visual hierarchy. Is gray text used to soften lower priority elements? If so, what shade of gray? 2 to 4 UI variant colours will give a designer the tools they need to ensure that the most important information isn’t overshadowed by lower priority elements.
Logo Variants: Even the most basic brand guideline should define the available logo variants. A vertical lockup and a horizontal lockup serve very different purposes. Listing the logo variants that exist gives a designer one more tool to create consistent and dynamic designs.
More Than Most Small Businesses Need
In most cases, the basic elements listed above will give a designer the bare minimum required context to create a new design that effectively represents a company’s brand. When we work with small businesses on an initial Ecommerce launch or their first run of product packaging, this is typically where we stop. For larger corporations with more aggressive marketing goals, a more built out set of brand guidelines is crucial to achieving higher quality results:
Brand Overview: A brand is more than a set of colours and fonts. A brand can inspire strong feelings and fierce loyalty. The brand overview should define the values of the company and the nature of the brand voice. By conveying exactly what a company stands for in the brand overview, you give designers and copy writers alike the added context to help them create marketing collateral that “feels right” for your brand.
Logo Usage: When fully defining a brand, it is important to utilize a set of logos that can meet a robust variety of needs. Beyond simply listing existing logo variants, new variants should be created to fill in the gaps. Black and white, grayscale and knockout variants allow for a wider range of applications than a typical full-colour logo. Additionally, including clear space rules, minimum sizing, and responsive logo variants allow for an increased range in possibilities for logo application.
Colour System: While a basic brand guideline covers brand colours and UI variants, a colour system takes the use of colours a step further by defining shades, additional colour codes, and relative percentages of space that the colours should take up in branded material.
Design Language: A design language formalizes the rules behind specific design elements that are used repeatedly across branded material. This can include specific stroke weights, specific backgrounds, shapes, etc. If the rest of the brand guidelines define the elements of a brand, the design language describes how they fit together.
Where do you start?
To begin building brand guidelines, the first step is to gather everything that already exists. If you have a logo, and you have variants, gather all of them in one place. If you have brand colours, fonts etc. record them. Having something extremely refined from the very beginning is less important than having something consistent. Once all of the existing assets are collected and formalized, the missing pieces will be visible. From there, you’re ready to begin building out the missing pieces or hand your assets off to an agency to fill in the gaps for you.