November 24, 2023 • Branding

Designer Explains: What Are Brand Guidelines? (with Examples)

Let’s make the rules.

Shavaun sitting with an art magazine in blue heels.

Creating brand guidelines is one of my favorite assignments as a professional designer.

It typically signals the end of a successful project, but even more exciting, it signals the beginning of seeing a new brand or campaign out in the world—and all the creative expressions of that brand or campaign to come.

Also called a brand style guide, brand kit, or brand book, here’s everything you need to know about brand guidelines and real-world examples of brand books I’ve worked on.

What are Brand Guidelines?

Brand guidelines are a creative rulebook that defines brand colors, typography, logo use, and tone of voice, among other brand details.

It can exist as a one-pager or a multi-page presentation, and the purpose of the document is to guide consistency across any platforms where your brand exists.

For some global brands with multiple brand extensions, channels, and markets, their brand guidelines can have as many pages as a book.

The document will include do’s and don’ts, which is my favorite section of the brand guidelines—because I get to “break” the design and think of all the ways another agency or person could go astray from the beautiful brand we’ve established.

Then, I put a big bold ‘DO NOT’ on a page with rules and visuals that reference things that no one, under any circumstances, should never ever do with your design, especially with your logo. 

Documenting the ‘do nots’ is just as valuable as the rules in order to preserve your brand identity for as long as you desire.

Do I Need Brand Guidelines?

If you’re a creative, solopreneur, or small business owner branching out on your own for the first time, hiring a designer, launching a new product or channel, or have heard a thing or two about Canva, having brand guidelines will be valuable.

Arguably, necessary.

You will need brand guidelines if you plan to grow your business.

Establishing clear creative rules determines how your brand will retain its identity as you scale, creating a foundation for future growth.

A brand book will enable your business to expand (think new products, services, or communication channels) and enter new markets while maintaining your unique and recognizable brand identity.

Why are Brand Guidelines Important?

Brand guidelines are essential for solopreneurs and small business owners because they ensure a consistent and cohesive brand image, helping you establish and maintain a professional and trustworthy reputation and image.

By defining the critical visual elements, like your logo, brand colors, and fonts, as well as messaging strategies for your brand or business, brand guidelines can empower you to differentiate yourself from competitors and help you make a lasting impression on prospective and current customers. 

Brand guidelines establish and encourage consistency, which improves communication internally with your hires or freelance contractors and externally with other brand partners.

A well-established guidelines document will help you maintain your brand identity, even as you grow and adapt to new opportunities, channels, and markets.

How to Create Brand Guidelines for Your Business

When creating brand guidelines for your business, you can hire someone or do it yourself.

What to Expect When Hiring Someone

A professional designer will (and should) have extensive experience and understanding of brand principles to help you uncover and define elements you might have yet to consider.

They can also add more detail to your brand guidelines document.

Related: How to Hire a Creative Freelancer Online →

Woman organizing a color palette on paper
Anna Nekrashevich, Pexels

For example, when it comes to color, color is rendered and produced differently in a print versus digital format.

A professional designer should be able to define your exact brand colors for print (usually using the Pantone Color System or C/M/Y/K color values) and your colors in digital (usually using HEX codes and R/G/B color values).

Why does this matter?

Don’t get caught with 50 shades of grey if grey is among your brand colors.

The colors you use on your website (digital format) will likely print differently with ink applied to paper or textiles (think merch like a t-shirt or a tote bag).

You could wind up with two very different shades of colors that may not align with your brand.

Don’t get caught with 50 shades of grey if grey is among your brand colors.

Your brand guidelines should specify the exact color values to ensure consistency of your brand colors regardless of format.

How a Professional Designer Manages Fonts & Typography

Typography is another critical brand element requiring flexible rules in your brand book.

Not all fonts show in digital formats, unlike in print, where you can print any font style or design.

Expert Insight: Even the most extreme and stylized font can be reproduced in print because designers typically turn the font into outlines (scalable vector art), so the printer is actually printing shapes, not an installed font. That’s a little advanced tip there.

But do not expect that same gloriously stylized font to appear in an email (unless the font is displayed as an image, not live text).

Here’s why.

Email, for example, is a digital format in which you cannot add highly stylized brand fonts (again, unless the font is displayed as or inside of an image). Having images in an email can create issues with file size, accessibility, and display of your email and its deliverability. 

So, you will need your “main” font and a “backup” font, which is typically a system font that best resembles or complements your main font to portray your brand display globally across digital channels, devices, and software.

Pro Tip: If you hire someone to create your brand guidelines, be sure to have a clear scope of work that outlines how robust and long your creative rulebook will be. Will you get (or need) a one-pager? A 10-12 page presentation? Or a full-on bible-thick brand book?

Need more brand help?

Book a session and I can further talk you through the magic and intricacies of brand guidelines specific to your brand’s needs. Or, let’s review a brand guidelines document you may have already started.

Interpreting Brand Guidelines as a Designer

This article is from a ‘designer explains’ perspective because I want you, as the brand or business owner, to clearly understand the power of your brand guidelines and, ultimately, how folks like me (the designers) interpret them.

Designers use brand guidelines as a roadmap to ensure consistency of your visual elements, like logos, color schemes, and typography, maintaining a unified brand identity across various platforms.

These guidelines serve as a reference point for designers to understand your brand’s aesthetic and messaging preferences, helping them create materials that align with your brand’s personality and resonate with your target audience.

Brand guidelines are especially valuable when you hire outside freelancers. 

The document helps them speak your brand language, literally and figuratively.

Ultimately, your guidelines will empower designers to produce cohesive and recognizable designs that reinforce your brand’s image and values.

So, when you receive work, there are no surprises.

A designer who properly follows your guidelines should always create on-brand work.

The guidelines define what is and what is not on brand.

What to Include in Your Brand Guidelines

These are 11 critical elements to include in your brand guidelines, along with the rules that your designer or branding agency should define in your creative document:

1. Logo Usage

    • Clear guidelines on proper logo placement, size, and variations.
    • Rules for maintaining clear space around the logo.
    • Minimum size specifications: how small is too small?

2. Color Palette

    • Define primary and secondary colors; a tertiary color palette might also apply.
    • Clearly define what to use specific colors for (accents, background, links, etc.)
    • Include color codes (hex, RGB, CMYK) for consistency across digital and print media.

3. Typography

    • Names of and a selection of fonts for headings, subheadings, and body text.
    • Guidelines on font sizes, spacing, and formatting.
    • Source of fonts & licensing:
      • If a font is open-source, include the link for another designer to download.
      • If a font has been licensed on your behalf, ensure the usage rights have been secured.

4. Visual Elements

    • Define the preferred use of imagery, photography, and illustrations, if applicable.
    • Set rules for the style and tone of visual elements to maintain brand cohesiveness.

5. Voice and Tone

    • Define your brand’s communication style, including the preferred tone and language.
    • Examples of expressing and adapting the brand voice across different communication channels.

6. Messaging & Brand Ethos:

    • Core brand messages and positioning.
    • Include brand taglines, slogans, and key messaging points.

7. Application to Various Mediums

    • Instructions on applying brand elements to different mediums, such as social media, print materials, and websites.
    • Consideration for responsive design and adaptability across platforms.

8. Stationery and Collateral

    • Design specifications for business cards, letterheads, and other branded materials.
    • Layout recommendations for consistency in printed collateral and merchandise, to name a few channels.

9. Digital Guidelines

    • Specifications for website design, including layout, imagery, complementary system fonts, and interactive elements, like buttons.
    • Guidelines for email templates, social media graphics, and other digital assets.

10. Usage Restrictions

    • Clear rules regarding what not to do with the brand elements.
    • Restrictions on alterations to the logo, colors, or other vital elements.

11. Revision History

    • A section detailing when the guidelines were last updated.
    • Any version history to track changes and ensure everyone is working with the latest guidelines.

Brand Guidelines Examples

Here are two real-world examples of brand guidelines that I’ve worked on. One is for a small business, and the other is for a global brand campaign.

Brand Book Example for Global Campaign

What are brand guidelines example

This brand guidelines document is one I created for a global health brand while working at an ad agency in New York.

It was over 50 pages long and explained everything from color use and layout for broadcast TV networks to design layouts for banners, broadcast TV ads, direct mail, social media, print ads, and websites.

The color palette outlined 16 colors, which sounds like a lot, but remember: this is a global brand with robust marketing efforts, an extensive creative asset library, and very specific usage needs.

In fact, this 50-page document was just for a portion of their brand and business.

So consider this a light version of a guidelines document for a big brand.

Brand Book Example for Small Business (One Page)

Brand guidelines example for small business

These brand guidelines are for a regional bakery in the Tri-State area. I worked directly with the business owner to create their brand identity. And I considered brand assets for in-store (offline) and online (websites, social, etc.) experiences.

As a smaller (and newer) brand with less marketing demands, we efficiently condensed their brand guidelines to one page to launch.

Want more inspiration?

Check out my Pinterest board below. I’ve curated more brand book examples that I love:

About the Author
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