How To Create Brand Guidelines (+ Free Template)
So you’ve spent weeks, maybe months, crafting your perfect logo that says EVERYTHING about your brand.
You’ve decided the colours, the typefaces, and have dressed up your social media accounts to reflect your brand to the core.
Whether you’ve done this alone, or with the help of a designer or agency, you’ve invested a lot into it. Blood, sweat, tears and hard-earned cash. And it’s worth it: if you don’t love your brand, you’ll likely have a hard time convincing others to love it too.
But what good is all this brand collateral if it isn’t used correctly?
If there are no brand guidelines in place, then this is a BIG possibility.
Whether your team is big or team is small, heck even if you’re a solo-show, there is a chance that your brand can get diluted over time and misaligned with your core values.
So, what exactly are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines, or style guides, are the rulebooks that dictate how your brand appears to the big wide world.
They are the why, the what and the how behind your brand.
They usually include everything from the brand mission statement, the logo, how to use the logo, what colours to use, what fonts to choose, the type of images, grammar and templates for use in advertising and media.
They can be quite a beast of biblical proportions. Or they can be a few pages in pdf.
The point is: without one? Things can go wrong and all the time and money spent on building your brand can be lost in an instant.
Why do you need brand guidelines?
Just in case you need more convincing (or need to convince someone else) THIS is why you need to invest in brand guidelines:
1) Consistency is key
We take in a LOT of branding every day. Most of it is going to be repeated – and that’s what sticks.
I know that if I visit a new blog today, I can locate a little bird within a few seconds and be able to tweet that blogger within a few minutes to thank them for their useful info.
If it was different every time (and when it is, I do cry a little – the old-school ‘t’ just doesn’t say Twitter to me any more) I wouldn’t know where to go or how to connect.
Repetition builds familiarity, which builds trust. Pick it and stick with it.
2) Save time (and cash)
If you outsource any visual content – may be it’s a flyer, your email template, your social media posts – you are likely trusting someone else to visualise your brand precisely the way you see it.
That’s no easy feat for someone without a set of brand guidelines. I’ve worked on design briefs before which have had absolutely no guideance attached, and often not even a high-res logo (thank you brandsoftheworld).
Inevitably, the client will come back with amends that could have been avoided had I been supplied with a few simple rules regarding use of their logo, colour scheme, font, imagery.
Even if you’re making your own branded material, having a document you can consult is a great time saver, and a way to ensure you’re staying on track with your business intentions.
3) Strengthen your brand
As much as your logo is likely your brands key way of saying ‘Hey it’s me! Don’t forget me!’ your brand is MORE than just it’s logo.
It is the words you use, the amount of white space on your website, your email signature. The little details that can seem forgettable individually, but as a whole makes your brand identifiable and (hopefully) unforgettable.
7 Brilliant Brand Guidelines
So, who does it right? It’s definitely worth doing some research to see what other successful brands have implemented to make sure their brand is kept in check.
What IEEE understand is that different people are going to be using their guidelines. If someone just needs a quick reference to check they have the right hex code for a brand colour, they can use the concise, 4-page guide.
Alternatively, if an outside agency have come in to work on a bigger project, they might want to consult the 72 page (!) version of the guidelines.
One of the most pleasurable, engaging brand guidelines I’ve seen is from Skype. Communication is central to their brand, and their guidelines certainly reflect that. For tone of voice, and a guide that won’t put your designers to sleep – check out the Skype brandbook.
Macmillan have been cited numerous times as ‘go-to’s’ for brand guideline inspiration, and if you have a flick through you’ll see why. They have achieved the right balance of simplicity, fun (this may be a rulebook but there’s no need to treat it like the law) and detail.
There’s also a brief outline on their website for more general purpose use of their brand – a great example of why brand guidelines don’t need to be a pdf or physical document.
4) GT Global
These are worth looking at because the designer who created them is giving us a walkthough. It’s a reminder that getting someone who knows and understands your brand to help you with this is a great way to guarantee the guidelines do the job.
5) I Love NY
It makes sense that one of the best advertising campaigns, created by one of the best graphic designers of our time, would have a fittingly excellent set of brand guidelines.
The guidelines themselves are a treat to look at – a reminder that this guide can (and should) be just as beautifully designed as all your branded collateral.
Not the sexiest brand in history, nor is the guide anything to get too excited over, but Adobe do nail it when it comes to attention to detail.
Little things that may be forgotten, like the use of the trademark symbol, can save a lot of time and pain further down the line.
I cheated – these aren’t exactly brand guidelines; this is a new employee handbook. Valve is clearly a company that values each employee like a family member – something that I think is at the heart of truly great businesses.
It’s worth looking at because it shows how you can get the ethos of your brand across in more ways than just a logo and some fonts.
How to create Brand Guidelines
As a designer, I’ve been both delighted and horrified by guidelines. They can stifle creativity or make my job a piece of cake (saving you time and money).
However, while I might squeal with joy over an 80 page brand Bible, an intern managing your social media accounts may be grateful for a condensed, to-the-point one pager.
This brings us to the first question you need to answer…
Q: Who is going to be using these brand guidelines?
Tim Hickle describes your 3 potential users brilliantly:
1) Interns and execs – the people on your team who don’t get why you need brand guidelines and don’t care to spend their time going through your preciously crafted brand bible. All they need is a high-res logo, your fonts and a few pointers to explain (visually) the key do’s and don’ts. Keep is simple.
2) Writers – the folks that care about what your brand is trying to say. This is where a well-crafted ‘tone of voice’ section comes in handy. The Economist supplies a copywriters dream.
3) Designers – I can relate to this user. We want it ALL. The more detailed, the better. Templates? I love you! However, keep in mind that your brand is destined to grow and evolve, alongside your business, and these brand guidelines need to do the same. Be open minded to new interpretations and suggestions from designers you trust.
This doesn’t mean you should stick to just one format – IEEE proved that even the most thorough of guides can be cleverly condensed into a more easily digested document.
l recommend starting with more information than you need – you can refine it later.
Whatever the length and breadth of your guide, I’ve compiled a list of the aspects of your brand that need to be covered.
What to include in brand guidelines:
1) Brand essence
Mission statement – Include what your business wishes to achieve and maintain and promise to its customers.
Brand overview – What is it’s history, vision, values?
Tone of voice – What are your commonly used words and phrases? Is your brand’s voice formal or chatty? Who is the intended audience?
2) Logo and tagline
Logo – The size of the logo in relation to other elements, space around the logo, when to use different versions of it, what not to do with it
Sub-brand logos – Does your brand have any sub-brands?
Tagline – If you have a tagline, when should it be used? How big/small should it be in relation to the logo?
Trademarks and Intellectual Property – If your brand is a registered trademark, when do you need to display it? How big or small should it be?
3) Colour palette
Your brand colours – These are usually subdivided into primary and secondary, or complimentary colours. When can you use the complimentary colours?
It’s also important to provide the RGB, HEX, and CMYK values of your brand colours to make sure you don’t get any surprises when a piece of printed material shows up with a wacky blue that looks totally different to the same blue on your website. #designernightmare
Type style – the fonts and styles of elements such as headers, sub headers, paragraphs, small text (copyright text for example) and quotes.
Digital fonts – think about webfonts/default system fonts to use for things like email when you can’t have the snazzy bespoke font you love.
Positioning, size, and white space – get down to the nitty gritty: line-height, line-length and margins are all things that can help ensure your branded materials look top quality.
Image style – What kinds of images – are stock photographs of people ok? Or do you prefer more illustrative images? If so, are they cartoony, line-drawn, heavily textured? Include examples.
Icons/graphics – Do you use any particular icons? Think bullet points, social media icons, button styles, site graphics…
Layouts and grids – How big/small do you want images to be in relation to other elements? If text sits on top of the image (think social media and blog posts) then how big should it be?
The more the merrier! Templates are the training wheels to make sure every thing is crystal clear. Start with the basics: business cards, a presentation, a few example social media posts.
Here’s a beefy list of templates you could include:
I know I’ve been there when creating guidelines for clients. Some have built up years worth of branded collateral and identifying what should be carried through and strengthened and what should be ditched is quite a job in itself.
That’s why these steps are key to take before you begin:
1) Make sure you know your mission statement. You can call it what you like, but whatever it is you need to know it, love it, be prepared to get it tattooed on your forehead. This is what your brand (and therefore the guidelines) are built on.
2) Get it all out there. You could use a few tools for this – Pinterest, Evernote, an actual pin board or scrapbook – whatever. Just gather up every piece of branded con lent you have produced, whether you like it or not.
3) Identify what you like and what you don’t like. then work out if what you like is actually in keeping with step #1: Your mission statement. If it’s not? Discard.
At this point, you should be
sick of your brand ready to start.
4) Download your FREE brand guidelines template. Now this isn’t comprehensive and of course every brand is different, but I’ve put together a 6-page template to get you started. It beats a blank page.
You can download the inDesign file and PDF below!
Closing thought: Your brand guidelines should evolve
Steps to take to make sure your brand guidelines don’t stifle your brand’s growth:
1) Each year make a point of going through the guide and asking:
– What do you still like?
– What do you think needs to change?
2) Then look through your content from the year asking:
– Where did the brand slip? Is that a sign you need to adjust the guidelines around that particular type of content, or place more emphasis on the rules this time around?
3) Make changes as needed and spread the word!
Does your brand have any brand guidelines you’re proud of and fancy sharing? Feel free to show off in the comments below!
(Alternatively send me a tweet @CatRoseDesign to let me know if you found this useful)