Building your brand guidelines
All Brands On Deck
If you want to build an unforgettable brand that will stand the test of time, one of the most critical steps is getting everyone in your organization on the same page. The name of the game is consistency, and that's where your brand guidelines come in.
Brand guidelines—aka a "style guide" or "brand book"—should clearly define the look and feel of your business. This includes your mission statement, target audience, colors, typography, editorial style, and all visual design components.
If you've never built brand guidelines for a brand, it's tough to know where to start. So we created an open source library of brand style guides that you and your team can use as inspiration. Whether you're creating something from scratch or giving your deck a refresh, we hope this improves your process.
Creating brand guidelines can be a daunting task, but don't let this stop you from putting something together. It's better to have the bare minimum than nothing at all. Here at Air, we started with a simple Notion doc and continued to revisit it, build upon it, and eventually transform it into neatly organized deck.
If you're feeling stuck, try to think about who will benefit from these guidelines the most. Is there more than one marketer or copywriter on your team? Then maybe you should prioritize language and how your brand speaks. Do you work with freelance designers or photographers often? In that case, it might make more sense to hone in on colors, typography, and visual design elements.
Everyone's guidelines are a little different, and that's ok! Just be sure to include the basic design elements and organize it in such a way that your document can act as the single source of truth for your ever-growing team.
Your brand guidelines are all about you, so don't be afraid to start off with a clear introduction to the product as well as the company's greater missions and values. Including the mission is important because it's the guiding light for everything you do, and it also helps partners better understand how you want the brand to be represented in the world.
Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer. What are their interests? What are their pain points? Why do they need your product or service? It doesn't matter how "cool" your brand looks, all of your hard work is a wash if it doesn't resonate with the target audience.
Color is an important component to brand perception. Your color system is a powerful tool that not only helps to convey emotion, but also strengthens brand awareness over time if used correctly.
Any typefaces used for in the logo, wordmark, or marketing materials should be included in your brand guidelines. Be sure to specify weights, colors, and web-safe alternatives, as well as usage and formatting. You may have fonts that are only used as titles and others that are only used for body copy.
For this section, describe your brand as if it was a person! Start by asking everyone on your team to make a list of adjectives that they believe best embody the brand, and then narrow it down to the top 5 characteristics.
You can also include examples of what your brand is not. Example: Your brand might be "sophisticated" but not "uppity."
No brand bible is complete without the logo! Be sure to include design specifications like minimum sizing, color guidelines, and rules for placement around other assets. Your logo is the most prominent visual representation of your brand, so having clear definitions will help maintain the integrity of your identity regardless of who's working with it.
If you want to go above and beyond, include examples of logo treatments that should be avoided.
How your brand sounds is just as important as how it looks. Defining your editorial style will make it much easier to stay consistent across platforms and leave a lasting impact. But how?
Start by choosing a style. You don't need to create the rules, you just need to follow them! Decide as a company whether you’re partial to the New Oxford Style Manual or the Associated Press Stylebook.
Define your product or service and commit to that language everywhere. In the very beginning, it may be helpful to have a 1 sentence descriptor, 2 sentence descriptor, short paragraph, and long paragraph handy for different scenarios.
Establish tone. Take into consideration your industry, customer pain points, and the level of privacy and security associated with your product. A bank will speak to a customer very differently than a gym, for example.
Drill down the nitty-gritty stuff like formatting and punctuation, and pick a side on the never-ending debate about the Oxford comma (we’re team O.C. here at Air).
Aside from your logo, colors, and typography, your design team might also have complementary elements. At Air, we use rounded shapes—aka "macaronis"—to bring static images to life. It's important to define not only what these elements are, but when and how they should be formatted to avoid misuse.
Applications of the brand
You may know what your logo looks like, but do you know how it will look once it's in a different environment? Your logo won't always be on a plain white background, and the application section is where you can paint a picture for your how your brand might look out in the real world.
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Have you worked on any brand guidelines or style guides that you're particularly proud of? We would love to include them in our open source library. Please submit relevant decks, pdfs, or documents here.