When you’re starting a new business and you’re not a designer, the idea of building a brand identity and creating brand guidelines can be daunting.
But here’s the thing: consistency is the backbone of an authentic, trustworthy, and recognizable brand and customer experience. This means consistency in the way you look, speak to, and service your customers and target audience.
Staying consistent takes effort, and more importantly, it takes rules. That’s where brand guidelines come in. They transfer one more set of details you have to remember and put them in a shareable master document.
The result? Brand consistency is easier to maintain, whether you’re a company of 1 or 100.
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are a set of rules about how to represent your brand across channels and assets, helping your business build credibility and recognition as you grow. Brand guidelines always include visual guidelines (logo usage, color palette, typography). They can also cover your company’s mission, brand voice, imagery, and more.
If putting this type of document together feels overwhelming, we get it. The good news? Choosing a logo is a solid starting point for creating brand guidelines.
After you’ve finalized your logo design, you’ve also determined the colors and typography your business will use — two key brand building blocks.
What do brand guidelines include?
Brand guidelines aren’t the same for every company, nor should they be. While prominent brands require more detailed rules and scenarios, startups and small businesses can get by with a pared-down set of guidelines and add to them over time.
Brand guidelines should always include:
- A cover page
- Logo guidelines
- Color palettes
- Usage examples
They can also include a mission statement, visual rules around images and icons, brand voice guidelines, and specifications for assets like packaging, email marketing, and more.
Below, a detailed breakdown of each of the section.
Keep your cover page simple. Your logo and company name with a simple “Brand Guidelines” title will suffice!
Your logo is the face of your brand. If it appears differently across channels and assets, it will lose its recognition and dilute your brand.
Logo guidelines include:
- Logo elements – A visual guide to the elements that make up your logo, including wordmark, icon, and slogan (where applicable).
- Color variations – The primary (colored) version of your logo, as well as black-and-white versions, transparent background options, and any other color variations that are allowed.
- Clear space (also called exclusion zone, safety space, padding, etc.) – Your logo should always be surrounded by a consistent amount of clear space to ensure its visibility and impact. At Logojoy, we determine clear space by taking 10% of the total width of your logo. No graphic elements or text should invade this zone!
- Unacceptable uses – To ensure your logo doesn’t get altered, it’s important to show examples of what not to do with the design — for example, don’t change the color, don’t make it semi-transparent, don’t rotate or play with scale, etc. This section can also include the minimum size your logo can appear.
Based on your logo, two color palettes are usually determined:
- A primary color palette, which consists of the exact colors used in your logo, including color names and codes for different uses (CMYK for print, HEX and RGB codes for digital).
- A secondary color palette, which consists of complementary brand colors that can be used for text, headlines, and other components of branded assets.
This section of your brand guidelines document will show the main fonts or typefaces used in your logo, as well as secondary fonts that can be applied to headlines, body copy, and more.
When possible, it’s helpful to show examples of your logo, colors, and fonts applied to items like business cards, packaging, T-shirts, and more.
Optional sections to add to your brand guidelines
- Mission statement: Boiling your company’s “what” and “why” into a one- or two-sentence mission statement takes time, but it’ll set the tone for future branding efforts — and many other company decisions.
- Imagery: Examples of the types of images you’ll use in your branding; can include either stock or original photography.
- Illustrations/icons: Examples of custom or purchased illustrations or icons you’ll use.
- Design specifications: If your business focuses on email marketing, packaging, ads, or other specific branded assets and channels, you may want to include specific guidelines on how to design them. If you’re just starting out, these specifications can be added over time.
- Brand voice: Brand voice is a good thing to keep them in mind. To start, write down a few simple adjectives of how you want your brand to sound — for example, friendly, helpful, and unfussy. If you’ve written “about us” copy for social media or your website, you can include it as “boilerplate” copy for use in future marketing like press releases.
Note: Companies often develop content-based style guides over time. When more content is produced, patterns and rules emerge — things like tone, word usage, capitalization, spelling, and more. Want to see what an in-depth style guide looks like? MailChimp‘s is a great online example.
How do I create brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines usually take the format of a PDF or flippable online booklet.
Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides are two programs you can use when building brand guidelines as they allow you to easily incorporate images, words, screenshots, and more. When you’re ready to share, save the presentation as a PDF.
If you create a logo with Logojoy and purchase an Enterprise Package, we’ll automatically create your brand guidelines for you and provide an easy-to-share link.
Once you have a brand guidelines document, here are three ways to make sure it gets used and maintained:
- Share one copy (non-editable by others) and store it in an easy-to-access place like a shared drive, updating the file when any changes arise.
- Send the document to anyone who joins your company or works on your brand (including freelancers and printers).
- Assign someone to own the original document and review the guidelines annually or semi-annually.
When do I use brand guidelines?
Use your brand guidelines when you’re:
- Designing brand assets (websites, brochures, social media accounts, packaging, etc.)
- Working with a designer (or someone else building brand assets for you)
- Working with a printer or print shop
- Bringing on a new employee
- Building your brand as you grow your business
Brand guidelines examples
To reiterate: there’s no single “right” way to create brand guidelines, and what they include will largely depend on your company’s size and visual branding needs.
Some businesses create loads of different assets, while others may be fine with a simple website and social media channel setup (especially if most of their communication happens offline).
Slack’s brand guidelines are a prime example of simple, stripped-down rules that it clear how to use (and not use) the company’s logo and name.
Love to Ride’s brand guidelines include more detail. As a design-focused organization that uses several symbols and color variations of its logo, you can see how this document is a must-have for brand consistency.
Help Scout’s guidelines delve into three areas: visuals, copy, and code (it’s a software company). This example is another in-depth piece, and you can tell it’s been developed over time. (Check out more brand guidelines templates and tips.)
Logojoy automatically generates visual brand guidelines for customers who purchase premium or enterprise packages. Here’s an example of what our brand guidelines look like:
Whether you create your brand’s assets (website, business cards, etc.) or outsource the job to others, think of brand guidelines as a rulebook to build a consistent, authentic identity and avoid common design mistakes as you grow.
Even if you’re a one-person startup, getting these rules documented puts you on track for building a strong brand.
To produce brand guidelines, determine what sections will be most relevant to your business, how you’re going to create them, and where you’ll store and share them.
Then get down to marketing your amazing products or services with confidence. Consistency for the win!