The Tale of Style Guides

A quest to brand consistency

Once upon a time, there lived a craftsman named Johannes Gutenberg. In a charming  little village in Germany, Gutenberg worked day and night on his inventions. His most famous work was the first-ever printing press, that revolutionized the spread of information throughout the world and laid the foundation for design for centuries to come.

Style guides date as far back as publications themselves. Newly formed newspapers and print publications used style guides to form a usage of language and layout throughout all their issues. And as media formats developed and evolved, style guides became more important than ever before. Now style guides are used over every platform and media channel, from print to social media.

But our tale doesn’t end here. We are going to take you on an adventure through style guides so you have all the resources you need to either create your own, or request a style guide from your clients.

Setting the Scene

A style guide is a document that outlines how a brand should be presented. While there are many ways to create a style guide, they all have a similar goal: to ensure a continuous brand experience. This means that with every encounter of the brand or product there are the same underlying traits, like colors, typography, language, etc.

Brand uniformity is important because it encourages customer loyalty. For instance, if you’re an ice cream lover (like us!), then you probably know brands like Ben and Jerry’s, Häagen-Dazs, and Magnum. In fact, you probably have an image in your head of what these ice creams actually look like.

Taking a closer look at Ben and Jerry’s, the company has brand elements that make the product recognizable. A consistent font and color scheme are a given, but Ben and Jerry’s has something even more special. The blue sky with cartoon clouds and green pastures. The black and white cow doing something silly. Oh and don’t forget the “flavor tower” that illustrates the ice cream make-up.

Images sourced from Benjerry.com

The point is, companies like Ben and Jerry’s are experts in branding. Their products are presented in a way where customers can easily recognize their ice cream. And since we’re all creatures of habit and tend to buy from brands we are familiar with, a consistent style and brand results in higher levels of customer loyalty.

So how do you recreate this for your own services or product? Style guides of course! The best way to lay out all your branding details; like variations of your logo, different color palettes, typography information, everything.

On the Quest for a Successful Style Guide

Similar to any design document, creatives are often presented with a style guide that doesn’t fully show the client’s vision or brand persona. Nobody is at fault, it just comes from lack of direction. When creating a style guide for your client to fill out, take into consideration these points. Or skip the adventure and just use our style guide template instead!

1. Company Background

In this section, you should aim to get a snapshot of your client’s company and business story. This includes a short introduction, a short background story, as well as the mission and value statements.

  • Introduction: XZY is a leading contract manufacturer for nutraceutical markets. We produce a wide range of products, from gummy bears to sport jellys, for many major companies in North America and Europe. We focus on making quality products from organic and fair trade ingredients.
  • Background: XYZ was created from Jane Doe’s vision that science and creativity could coincide together. After graduating from college in food technologies, Doe wanted to recreate how the world perceives vitamins. She would find a way to put supplements and nutrients into something that everyone enjoys, candy. Ten years of building her business later, Doe launched XYZ and revolutionized the way we do vitamins. Inspiring a coexistence of creativity and practicality was Doe’s vision, and now we make it our mission.
  • Mission: To bring together health and creativity
  • Values: Honest, transparent, creative

The combination of these elements hints at the tone and company voice which will guide blog content, visual media, slogans, etc. All very important characteristics to establish brand consistency.

2. Audience

Your audience, or those who will be purchasing the service or product, is a crucial section in your style guide. One of the best ways to ask for this information is through a buyer persona.

A buyer persona is a fictional, but research-based, representation of ideal customers. Buyer personas narrate who the customers are, the challenges they face, and how they make certain decisions. You can build this character off of your target audience description from your creative brief.

Sometimes you might have multiple buyer personas. In the case of Collato, we have two audiences; the creative and the external. Each character plays a different role in the process, but they both have a different criteria for assessing the product. Therefore, we would need two personas to represent our audience.

By including a buyer persona in your style brief, you can better understand the target customers. In turn, you can tailor the content and imagery of your design project to the correct audience.

3. Imagery

Whether it’s a logo, product images, or marketing advertisements, your creative project will likely incorporate imagery. Having consistent brand imagery is not only helpful in creating a visual brand identity, but to create a positive first impression.

Let’s start with the logo guidelines. You may understand the colors and shapes of the logo, but what will it look like in different environments? On a black background, an app face, on the website? This section is where all of this information will come together so that your logo will never be stretched, altered, or inconsistent.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are the proper proportions of the logo?
  • How much space does the logo require?
  • What color variations will you use?

When it comes to imagery in general, you’ll know if an image communicates the “feel” of the brand. You can visually demonstrate this feeling with a mood board so that everyone is on the same page on how to interact with the brand.

4. Color Palette

Color is a visual expression of a brand and tells a story about a company. That’s why it’s imperative to include a color palette in your style guide outline.

We talked about this in a former blog about mood boards, but colors evoke certain emotions and create an association between a product or service and a company. For instance, psychology studies say that bright red and yellow colors increase heart rates and blood pressure, encouraging customers to act quickly both physically and emotionally. That’s probably why fast-food chains utilize such colors!

For your style guide, a color palette is a full range of colors that a brand uses to convey their identity. There are many ways to approach a color palette, but normally a brand has one or two primary colors and a secondary color. They can be used in logo creations, website design, and print. So make sure your client chooses brand colors carefully!

Color palette created on Adobe Color

Staying consistent with colors helps provide a common link between the product and the brand, creating that feeling of trust and familiarity. 🤨 Still not convinced? Check out this Buzzfeed quiz where you guess a Disney character based on color palette. You’ll be amazed at how much you associate disney stories with color!

💡 Helpful hint: Make sure that clients include color codes when filling out the style guide. That way, you're never left to guess what hue, shade, or brightness they prefer to use.

5. Typography

The typography section of your style guide should show the fonts that you can use when designing the brand. It should specify sizing, spacing, capitalization, and proper usage of type. This contributes to the overall consistency of the brand, whether it’s on the website, in print, newsletters, etc.

Similar to color palettes, typography can communicate a certain feeling to the customer. For example, rounded and script fonts feel more lighthearted and playful, while square and stiff fonts feel more serious and professional. It all depends on what your client is trying to convey in their brand.

6. Language

How a company represents themself verbally can be just as effective as the visual elements of a brand. That’s why a language section within your style guide is a total must-have.

A language guide doesn't just list out grammar rules and punctuation tricks. Rather, it’s a part of the style guide document that helps content creators, translators, and marketing departments choose language that fits the brand. This incorporates details like the tone of voice, types of words to use, language style, purpose, brand voice, etc.

A law firm or government agency, for example, might utilize more formal language, while a tech startup might use more casual language. It all depends! No matter what the company language may be, consistency is key. You want to make sure the brand markets a message on every platform in the same way.

Here are some ideas to add in this section:

  • Will the language be formal or informal? Some languages have multiple options on how to address a reader, depending on the formality of a situation. In German and French you can use formal cases like Sie/Vous.
  • Choose the writing style. This plays into what we mentioned before; is the brand aiming to be playful and humorous or serious and professional? How should it be perceived?
  • Decide on length preferences. Should the information on the website be long and detailed? Or short and sweet?
  • List out grammatical elements. Should headers and subheaders be capitalized? What about the beloved Oxford comma?

Dreamy Style Guide Examples

We mentioned earlier that Ben and Jerry’s do a great job of branding their ice cream, but here are two more examples of companies that have their style guides on lock.

1. Spotify

When it comes to Spotify’s style guide, the best word to describe it is ‘all-encompassing.” They list out everything from color matching mistakes and false usage of iconography, to logo manipulation and sizing problems. Even their style guide within itself follows their style guideline!

Pictures sourced from spotify’s style guide

Because of Spotify’s success in brand consistency, this style guide is a perfect example to use as inspiration.

2. Uber

Uber’s style guide might seem just black and white, but looking deeper, it incorporates so much more. Composed of nine primary elements, Uber focuses heavily on creating a simple yet effective branding.

In the color section, their style guide lists out the primary colors (black and white), but go into detail about secondary and safety colors. Inspired from the colors of traffic, Uber incorporates red, yellow, and green into their advertising, apps, and website. The safety color, unique to the brand, is used only moments of support.

Pictures sourced from Uber’s style guide

Another interesting component in Uber’s style guide is the language guidelines. It states that the company will not use Uber as a verb or a noun. You can’t say for instance “let’s Uber to the party” or “my Uber has an Aux cord.” While this might not be the case for it’s users, Uber guidelines specify this clearly.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

When venturing out into the realm of style guides, always remember to incorporate the key elements that we discussed in this blog; company background, audience, imagery, color pallets, typography, and language. That way, you can create a unified brand identity that keeps customers coming back.

If you are too caught up in other adventures and tales, your fairy godmother is here to help! Check out Collato’s style guide template to help you through the whole process.

The End

Made with 🍦 in Berlin.