It's all about style
Let's face it: seersucker, polyester and Hawaiian prints are hallmarks of a satorial style that, frankly, should never have gone out of fashion and I, for one, welcome their inevitable comeback (hey, I was right about terry towelling). But we're not talking about that kind of style here. We're talking about style guides.
A style guide should be a standard outcome of any branding process and should be provided by your creative or design team at the completion of the job. Here is a bare minimum of what a style guide should specify.
Somewhere along the branding path, a selection of colours will have been developed that can collectively be known as your corporate colour palette. The point of a defined colour palette is to prevent staff and consultants making best-guesses about your corporate colours and to reproduce your brand consistently, across a variety of media, time and time again. Basically it answers the question, "What colour is blue".
To this end, colours need to be defined in a number of different "colour spaces".
Pantone: Pantone is a proprietary set of preformulated, pre-mixed inks that are used for their unique colours or for their fidelity. If you are using Pantone inks, each ink has a specific, unique identifier or PMS number. Your style guide should specify this number. There are other proprietary ink formulations, such as Toyo, but Pantone's dominance has made its colour referencing system almost generic — you'll often hear someone ask for a PMS reference for a product, such as paint, that has nothing to do with Pantone itself.
CMYK: This is printers' shorthand for 4-colour process printing. In the vast majority of cases, this is what you'll be using for your printed stationery, business cards, flyers, brochures, catalogues and books, so it's important that you know the CMYK colour breakdown for all the colours of your colour palette. This should be defined as percentages, in a format such as C90, M25, Y60, K10 — this represents percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks in any given colour definition.
RGB: For applications destined to be displayed on a computer monitor or other AV or backlit display system, you'll need colours defined in the RGB colour space (for red, green, blue). Numerically, an RGB colour can be represented as a percentage (R100, G0, B0) or as an integer from 0–255 (R255, G0, B0). This last may be called sRGB. You, of course, need to know how the designer has represented these RGB values — as a percentage or as an 8-bit integer.
Hexadecimal: A hexadecimal colour is a way of representing colours on the web, and is derived from the 8-bit RGB system. In the hexadecimal system, red is represented as #ff0000.
Fonts and typefaces
Let's not get into the semantic differences between a "font" and a "typeface" here. Suffice it to say that it's important you know what fonts are being utilised in your logo, your corporate communications and on your website.
You don't want every document that leaves your office being a hodgepodge of different fonts: the humble font can be a unifying element across your branding and it deserves to be respected.
Unfortunately, it's too easy for staff and management to experiment with all manner of fonts residing on their hard drive, or worse, downloading new fonts, and this needs to be discouraged. Sending out a quote with headings in Comic Sans because it looked "kinda cool" to Amelia in Accounts does your brand and your business no favours. (Besides, hasn't Amelia in Accounts got more important things to do?)
Fonts should be classified as primary and have substitutes or fallbacks. A substitute font is a font that is used when the primary font is not available. For example, your primary font may be Gill Sans, and its substitute may be Arial. Arial may be your primary web font, and its fallback is sans-serif.
Minimum sizes for type usage should also be nominated: typically 10–12 pt type is considered minimum size for standard copy.
Logo usage and display
Your logo is in most instances your primary brand element. Chances are it also cost a bit of coin. So you need to let it do its thing.
Your designer or creative team should have supplied you with logo files for display in print, on the web, perhaps reversed out, perhaps in mono or greyscale, and perhaps in a couple of different versions for different formats and applications.
Your style guide should detail when it appropriate to use each logo, or its variation.
It should define a minimum width or height of your logo in various applications (or universally). It should define clearspace around your logo so your logo isn't crowded.
It should state policies on reversing out the logo (i.e. white on a coloured background).
It should specify Dos and Don'ts for logo usage, such as distorting or skewing the logo, changing the relative scale of elements, re-arranging elements, and changing colours of individual elements.
It may go further and document spacing and measurements for using the logo on stationery, business cards, and compliments slips.
Sound all a bit prescriptive and regimented? Well, yeah — that's the point. To keep your branding looking good, you need to keep it consistent, and these rules lay down those guidelines.
At the very least, your style guide should set out, by way of measurements and examples, the layout, measures, colours and typefaces of a business card. Essentially, this would enable a complete newcomer to accurately and faithfully layout and send-to-press a new business card for a new staff member.
Depending on your needs, similar guides might be supplied for invoices, letterhead, compliments slips and envelopes.
Depending on you needs, a style guide might also need to define usages and styles for newspaper advertising, television advertising, publications, promotional documents such as flyers and brochures, posters and banners, billboard advertising, Powerpoint and multimedia presentations, signage, websites and social media, clothing and uniforms, and vehicle livery.
And finally, language
No, this might not be expected of the average design studio, but if you're using a full-service creative agency such as saso.creative, then a style guide that also defines rules and consistency for written and oral communications is also a good idea.
No, this isn't a grammar primer, and it doesn't tell you how or what to write. Like the above, it aims to achieve consistency across written communications: is it preferable to use -ise or -ize terminations? Do you spell out numbers or use numerals? Do you use bold type for emphasis, or italics? This might seem pernickety, but it's often the smallest things that make the difference between, say, getting that contract and not.
Get your own style
We provide a style guide as a matter of course when we’re commissioned for a new client logo: without one, your brand will suffer in the long term.
If you already have a logo or brand but your designer hasn’t supplied a style guide, get in touch: we can look at what you do have, and formulate a corporate style to go forward with.