Style guides are complements to identity projects. Ranging from simple logo usage tips to full-blown corporate identity style guides, these documents are sometimes asked by clients but should always be provided by the designer, at least in their basic form.
Designing a style guide can be as simple as putting together a couple of pages of usage examples for the identity designed or as complicated as designing an entire book that covers every possible application of the identity.
When to supply a style guide
As stated above, the simple answer is always.
You don’t want your clients to misuse your precious logo by placing it on the wrong background, with no safe area and out of proportion with the rest of the page.
Therefore you should always strive to convince clients to order a style guide. It is a separate design task that should be charged extra, especially in the case of the most complete corporate identity books.
Still, even when clients don’t need a style guide for their logo (maybe they’re a small company, maybe they have a small budget) you the designer can’t help but come up with possible usages for the identity. It’s only natural.
In this case I advocate providing a basic style guide as free throw-in: it will take little time to put together (use a template) and ultimately it will ensure correct use of your beloved design.
The client will obviously love you long time for delivering a free design.
Please understand that I’m not advocating working for free. I’m just saying that a small effort will ensure correct usage of the logo, making you proud to show your work and pleasing the client in the process.
Prepare a template
Quickly throw together a small brochure template graced by your logo and details. This needs to be only a few pages long with simple titles and captions. It will take you an hour or so to design this brochure, provided you already developed collateral to go with your identity.
Filling it with the client’s logo will take less than that.
Basic logo usage guide
When a style guide has not been included in the project brief you can happily deliver the finished logo to your clients, praying it will not end up being butchered by awkward placements, wrong backgrounds and too-close proximity to margins and other elements.
Are you willing to take that risk?
Your clients are not designers and it is to be assumed that they don’t possess your sense of harmony and composition. (Comic Sans and rainbow gradients do not come from designers!) Through no fault of their own, clients might end up making wrong use of your logo, unknowingly ruining it. This means a disservice to their business and an embarassment for the designer, who will be unwilling to share details of the logo in use. What a shame that would be!
I think you can safely avoid such awkward situations by providing a simple usage guide for the logo at no extra charge. Let me explain what I mean.
When you design a logo you will undoubtedly “see” it in use already. When you come up with the color scheme and the correct typography you will imagine the logo on a webpage, on a letterhead, on a business card. It’s just impossible for a designer not to envision a logo in use. When the design is finished, therefore, the designer will already have developed a few simple rules for using it.
So you see there is no need to design anything extra, outside of the budget, because the basic rules of logo usage have already been thought. Just put them in a basic brochure template and your basic logo usage guide is done.
Wasn’t that easy and quick?
Now the disadvantage of providing this style guide for free is understandably that you will not be paid for it. But what are the advantages?
- The style guide will help the client use your design correctly. Ultimately this is the most important aspect of a logo, both for the client and for the designer.
- Presenting the style guide as a freebie will certainly make a good impression on the client, who will more willingly work with you again, write a testimonial for your website and recommend you to other potential clients.
- The style guide is another vehicle for your design skills and your own identity. It’s a commercial for your capabilities and your services.
What should you include in a basic logo style guide? Check out this list:
- Logo: basic version.
- Logo: color version.
- Logo: enhanced/alternate version.
- Logo colors: Pantone, CMYK, RGB codes.
- Logo sizes: minimum (screen and print), recommended (screen and print).
- Typograhy: typeface and colors
Here are a few screenshots from a basic style guide I designed recently:
Full-blown Corporate Identity Book
Bigger companies require a complete style guide whose contents encompass every possible application of the identity, present and future.
Designing a corporate identity book is actually two jobs in one: 1) designing examples of identity usage; 2) designing the book.
As far as designing the book itself is concerned, theoretically there isn’t much difference from designing the basic brochure but the sheer number of information a whole book includes, the many chapters and types of designs that will appear on the pages mean a lot of work.
The usage examples will have to be sorted by type, each type of design will have its section and each section will have distinctive details within the overall design of the book.
A cover will have to be designed.
Captions will provide precise explanations on each usage example and they easily pile up to a lot of copy to write, edit and spellcheck. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, hire a copywriter to help you.
Additionally, corporate identity books will usually be printed and that means the book will have to be prepared for print by a competent designer. Advertising agencies usually have dedicated employees for this type of job.
What should you include in a corporate identity book? Here’s an extensive list of usage examples to design for such a style guide.
- Logo: all versions.
- Logo: construction grid.
- Logo: colors.
- Logo: typograhy.
- Logo: safety zones.
- Logo: minimum and recommended sizes.
- Logo: acceptable background colors and placement.
- Colors: basic palette.
- Colors: complementary palette.
- Colors: typography on color backgrounds.
- Typography: typefaces.
- Typography: minimum and recommended sizes.
- Stationery: business card templates.
- Stationery: letterhead templates.
- Stationery: envelope templates.
- Stationery: Office document templates (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint).
- Stationery: email signature templates.
- Stationery: folder templates.
- Collateral: invitation templates.
- Collateral: magazine ad templates.
- Collateral: contact information layout.
- Collateral: logo placement next to other symbols.
- Collateral: logo placement on photographs.
- Collateral: gadgets (pen, pencil, key ring, coffee mug…).
- Collateral: notepad example.
- Collateral: DVD and disc case templates.
- Collateral: poster templates.
- Collateral: banner templates.
- Signage: ID badge.
- Signage: door signs.
- Signage: name plates.
- Signage: external signs for company premises.
- Signage: company cars.
What follows is excerpts from a CI book I helped develop in 2006 as part of the design team of a Krakow advertising agency.
As you can see, designing a complete corporate identity style guide is a lot of work. This job must be charged separately from the main identity.
Style guides can be a welcome addition or a necessary constituent of identity jobs. Depending on the amount of work involved and the client’s budget you should either supply a basic logo usage for free or a small charge or design a complete book as a separate design entity.
Developing an identity is a fascinating job, allowing designers and clients to see it come alive before its implementation.
I sincerely hope this guide will come in handy for your next job.