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How to create comprehensive brand guidelines for your business

Clear brand guidelines will make working with freelancers much easier
Aug 18, 2020 • 6 minute read
Cover Photo

The ultimate guide to creating brand guidelines for your business

Uh-oh. Here we go again: question after question that your freelance designer sends your way. Do you prefer a soft green or mint green? Do you stick with the Hex color code or RGB color code? And so on and so forth. 
Deep down, you know the questions are all legit and even good, they prove the freelancer has a good grip on their job. Except, you don’t have the time to answer so many questions around the clock. 
Let’s back up a little here, you know that answering questions freelancers have is essential. But, if you look closely, you’ll see that all these questions are almost the same. If you answer these before a freelancer even asks them, you’ll save yourself tons of time. Not to mention, you’ll also make your freelancer’s job much easier. 
The solution?
Brand guidelines, the reference document that’ll save the day.
Ready to learn how to create one to save time and streamline the entire process?
Let’s get started.

What are brand guidelines?

Brand guidelines are a reference file that outlines your design requirements by offering an insight into your visual brand identity. It covers details like your logo's do's and don’ts, scoops into your color palette, shares details around the typography, and more.
This way, freelancers creating anything new for you, say a business card, eBook, a marketing plan presentation, and even a cover photo will instantly come to grips with your visual identity. 
You can call it a brand manual, visual brand guide, style guide, or so on. The purpose of the document remains the same, to encourage consistency in design and get everyone onboard the (design) ship.
Hard to believe? Let’s take an example, Respona, a digital PR tool, uses the same colors on their website:
how to create brand guidelines
As well as YouTube video:
Look closely and you’ll see their website chatbot also follows the theme color. Why do you think that is? Design consistency.
Two more things to note before we talk about why you need a design style guide: 
Your brand guidelines don’t necessarily need to be a PDF document. You could host a live stream presentation for a bunch of freelancers or prepare a slide show and pass it on. However, a PDF is easier to distribute and access.
Brand guidelines are essential even if you’re in constant touch with your freelancers using a myriad of collaboration tools. Like we discussed, such a guide reduces questions and saves time for everybody involved.   

Why do you need brand guidelines?

You could jump on a quick call with the freelancer and solve any questions that they may have, sure. But while this isn’t wrong, it’s not right either. 
Why? Because the freelance may forget all the details you shared with them. In fact, you could miss a point or two yourself, which explains why you need brand guidelines.
So, let’s quickly recount the need for a visual style guide: 
Brand guidelines cover the A-Z of your brand’s visual identity without missing anything. With everything on paper, there’s nothing to miss or forget.
These guidelines save time. You don’t need to be asking questions that are otherwise answered in the guidebook and the freelancer also has a good idea of what they’re going to work on.
Last but not the least, brand guidelines ensure everything designed for your brand or your client’s brand is consistent and conforms to your brand identity. This means you wouldn’t find your social graphic is a different color when you put it into one of social media management tools. Woo-hoo!
Okay, so you know the basics. Let’s get to work now. 

What should your brand guidelines include?

Brand guidelines should include everything related to your branding and more. But, succinctly. 
Here are the pages you’ll need: 
Cover page
Content page
Mission page
Logo page
Color page
Typeface page
Page on other design elements
To begin with, create an outline or write the content that’ll go into your visual style guide.   
Then, look for a brand guidelines template – it’ll give you a framework for creating a guide without having to start from the scratch. You can easily grab a free template from a DIY design tool like Visme
Next? Start working. 

1. Design your cover page.

Your cover page should be a reflection of your brand personality, to help your freelance designer understand the personality benchmark you are setting. Take a look at NASA's  style guide cover page as an example:
how to create brand guidelines

2. Work on your content page.

This one shouldn’t take long since it’s pretty straightforward. If you’re working with a brand guideline template, tweak the page’s content as per your needs and then revisit it at the end for any final touches. 
Here’s an example content page:
how to create brand guidelines

3. Write your mission page.

This one’s optional. But, it’s best to have it to tell your brand story for background information for the freelancer.
Just keep in mind: you don’t need to start a novel here. Keep it short, interesting, and clear. This way, your mission is easy to digest and recall. Check out Foursquare for inspiration:
The Foursquare brand is more than just a logo. It's a visual system and language made up of many parts that work together to convey the core of what Foursquare is and what we stand for.

4. Dive into the specifics related to your logo.

Logos can be tricky to deal with, especially when they’re stretched or compressed to add on different pages. For instance, email size limits vary, which is why your logo looks weird when you add it to your email signature.
However, you can clarify all those details here. On top of that, mention any logo versions that you may have, the color variations (in color, black and white, reverse – shown below) that a freelancer is okay to add to your logo, and any space that is required around your logo.
how to create brand guidelines
Don’t forget to mention size limits. In short, those are details on your logo size, space, and colors/variations.
And before you think you’re done: add one last thing – any examples of incorrect logo design. Here’s Mailchimp doing that in their visual brand guidelines:
how to create brand guidelines

5. Share your color palette.

In the next page, dive into your color requirements. Include HEX, RGB, and CMYK code versions for your brand colors. Also add all your primary and secondary colors.
how to create brand guidelines

6. Include your typeface details.

Next, give a mini guide of the fonts you use. As with other pages, make this one easy to understand at a glance. The best way to do this involves showing the typeface in action rather than putting it into words. 
Here’s what we mean:
how to create brand guidelines
When it comes to explaining typeface though, there’s a lot of work involved. For instance, you need to define the weights of the typeface (light, regular, bold), any size requirements, and the kerning and tracking ratios.
If you’ve an exclusive font for headings or logo, it’s best you mention that as well. 

7. Mention any other design elements.

Does your brand visual style stick with patterns? Any specific icons or any other design elements? If so, include a page or two on these. For instance, here’s Don’t Use Me sharing details on patterns and icons in their style guide: 
how to create brand guidelines

How do you make your brand guidelines effective?

Hopefully, you’ll now be ready to make your brand guidelines after having read through this guide. Before we wrap this up though, let’s share a couple of things that can help you make your style guide effective. These include clarity, examples, do’s and don’ts, and a checklist
Foremost of all, your guidelines need to be easy to consume. Yes, there’s a lot to cover, but your guidelines don’t have to be excessively wordy. Remember: nobody reads bulky documents, they just scan it. 
Use visualization where you can and show what you mean, don’t just write it (like we discussed in the typography section). 
Secondly, give a list of best practices backed with examples. No matter how clear you’re in your description, an example would always work better in explaining things. So why not use it?
Thirdly, it’s super helpful to add a list of do’s and don’ts wherever needed. Have them in the logo section, design elements page, and so on. 
Lastly, add a checklist to your guidelines. This works wonders in keeping your freelancer accountable. Add a small one, say a 3-pointer checklist, in every section. Or, create a full checklist and add it to the end of your brand guidelines. Don’t forget to mention there’s a checklist in the table of contents.
Grab a brand guidelines template and get ready to start building your brand.
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