Every company has its own style, and style guides help you maintain consistency throughout your website and marketing. A company style guide is an outline of how you will present and promote your company and build your brand.
The guide encourages consistency in writing and design, which gives a connected and unified feel to your company’s identity. It gives employees and clients a common understanding of the look and personality of your company. The style guide is often referred to within companies as the “Brand Bible.”
This guide outlines the process of what to include in your style guide and how to implement the use of it at your company.
What to Include
A style guide includes not only the preferred fonts, colors and logos of your company, but also guidelines for writing and designing anything your company puts out, including websites, business cards, advertisements, social media and more. You may already have some elements of a style guide, like a company logo and/or preferred fonts that everyone uses, but other things may need to be developed as you create your guide.
Consider including guidelines for these items:
- An editorial style guide: Decide whether you want to use AP, MLA, APA or Chicago style guides (learn more about each of them here). These guides list commonly accepted standards for anyone writing copy, press releases, blog posts, social media updates and more. When everyone at the company follows a common writing guide, your copy and content is more likely to be clear, consistent and easy to digest. The style guide covers things like the use of the Oxford comma, writing out numerals, how to write lists, the use of quotations, proper sentence structure, etc.
- Logos: This includes the size of the logo, the colors and how much clear white space should be around the logo. Also, be sure to detail how and where the logo should and can be used for marketing purposes. Many companies choose to create smaller versions of their logo (like this Facebook widget) or a mascot/shape that goes alongside the logo or can represent your company on its own (such as the Twitter bird).
- Fonts: Include the weight (thickness), names of fonts and font sizes for different purposes. Most companies have two or three fonts that complement one another. If you’re unsure about which fonts to use, you can consult with a graphic designer who has some experience with typography, or you can browse typography blogs. Be sure to create guidelines for both print and digital.
- Colors: A detailed color palette should also be outlined. This may include RGB and CMYK values of each color so your designers can always be precise. To help you determine an aesthetic color palette, you can consult a designer or research color palette resources like this.
- Words and taglines: Common descriptions and the company mission should be explained thoroughly, so copywriters and those on social media can be sure to have a consistent message. If your company has a slogan, you should designate when, where and how the slogan should be used.
- Layouts of materials: You may want to specify the layout of your company letterhead, business cards and other marketing materials (like brochures, newsletters, etc.).
- Website layout and design: Outline the layout of your website (describing any consistent elements that should appear throughout) and social media accounts. Be sure to include guidelines for social media and the tone of social media, because this voice may be more casual and conversational than the rest of your marketing.
- Image guidelines: Your guide should detail what images can and should be used, such as specific photos or clipart, and instructions on how to gather these images. Some companies prefer to use illustrations exclusively, while others are more photo-based. What style is your company aiming for?
Choosing and Creating Style Guide Elements
Choosing the specifications for the elements listed above can be difficult. When creating your style guide and attempting to set boundaries for design and writing, these tips can help:
- If you already have a style in mind, simply choose what you prefer. You may like the look of certain fonts or identify with certain colors. This is reason enough to connect them to your brand, as long as you remain consistent.
- Choose what you are familiar with. Writers may already be educated in a certain editorial style and can easily teach others within the company to follow certain guidelines.
- Make changes to existing guides. Find a style guide of an existing company that you admire, and change it to fit your business’ personality.
- Flesh out the guide as you grow and change. The guide doesn’t have to be set in stone. As your company grows and changes, so will your marketing plan and your brand. Be flexible.
- Keep it short, around four pages or less. This is easy to do if you make sure you don’t teach what your employees already know, like basic grammar. Just outline what you prefer for each item. The guide certainly can be longer, but brevity encourages people to actually read it and helps make searching for info easier. The guide should be used as a reference by employees or contractors, not as a training or learning device.
- Include common items or issues that will come up regularly, like client name preferences or capitalization of certain words within your slogan.
- Check out the course on “Design for Entrepreneurs” for more information and guidance on choosing and creating design elements for your style guide, as well as this course on “Business Writing and Grammar” in order to refine your editorial and writing goals.
How to Use
Implementing a style guide requires a few simple steps to ensure success. It is recommended to:
- Have a style guide administrator. This person should know the guide well and be able to edit copy or oversee overall design elements.
- Print and distribute copies of the style guide to everyone in the company, and have a copy on a shared drive, like Google Docs or the company network. Make it easy to access, so when people have a question, they can quickly find the answer.
- Update regularly, and include a “dates updated” on each draft.
- Involve everyone, and make sure they have access to the guide and know specifics and common items.
- Include examples and visuals to ensure everyone understands what fonts, images and colors should look like.
- Be specific, but don’t restrict creativity. If your guide is too detailed, you may make it difficult for employees to create inspired designs or materials.