Simply put, a brand book—or style guide—is a set of rules that explain how a brand works, all in an effort to keep the brand consistent and recognizable to current customers and attractive and memorable to potential ones. Whether you’re creating a new style guide or simply familiarizing yourself with a client’s existing guide, there is a basic template that most design style guides follow.
What are the goals of the brand? How has the brand evolved over time, and what values and beliefs will help shape and guide it into the future? Brands aren’t static; the information provided in the introduction helps explain where the brand’s been, and, more importantly, where it’s headed.
Logo or wordmark
Central to any brand is the logo, wordmark, or other visual device that represents the brand. How large or small should the logo appear? What about “clear space” or “knocking out” the logo from a colored background? A good brand book shows correct and incorrect logo applications and explain the reasoning behind each.
Second only to the logo or wordmark to the brand’s identity is its color palette. Some brands are instantly recognizable by their colors alone. Even with less-established brands, color is an important way of communicating emotion. Primary, secondary, and even tertiary palettes should be shown and their usage explained.
Whether the brand has its own proprietary typeface or has adapted a commercially available one, the style guide should make clear why the typeface was chosen and how it should interact with other brand elements.
A secondary, commonly available typeface should be designated for web use and for those users and applications for which the primary brand typeface isn’t available. In many cases, a typeface like Arial or Courier will be chosen as they’re already on most computers. The goal is consistency.
While larger brands may have the luxury of a custom photography library, brand bibles for smaller brands should still provide guidelines for choosing appropriate stock photography or for directing a photo shoot, including standards for color, cropping, and emotion.
Beyond basic spelling and punctuation guidelines, a brand book should describe the brand’s “voice.” What’s the brand’s personality? A style guide should explain if the brand’s writing style should impart urgency, empathy, or technical savvy. Generally, samples of written copy are included as well. See our guide to creating an in-house writing style guide here.
Finally, any good style shows real-world examples of the brand applied to advertising, signage, online layouts, and stationary.
No style guide can be exhaustive, but the best ones give just enough guidance to allow the user creative flexibility while keeping “to brand.”