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Creating a Brand Style Guide (Part 1)

May 16, 2017


Today we introduce a new topic and new guest author to the Extensis blog. We’ve invited Pariah Burke (Twitter: @iampariah) to speak about the creation of Branding Style Guides. Pariah is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and the author of numerous books, video courses, and articles covering InDesign, InCopy, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, typography, asset management, ePublishing, and the business of design. He is an Adobe Community Professional, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and an advisor to Adobe and other companies. We’re happy to have him join us, and now on to the good stuff!


Creating a Brand Style Guide is a 6-part series of articles that speaks directly to business owners, brand managers, and graphic designers, in-house or external, who create and work with brands, whether their own or clients. This series is about understanding the importance of various brand communication elements, solidifying the desired uses of those elements and all interactions the brand will have with any entity, and learning strategies to set down clear, concise rules to ensure control and consistency of brand element usage and every visual representation of the brand across all media. For entrepreneurs, freelancers, and brand managers, the utility of such a series is in understanding what makes up the brands they own and manage, and in establishing their control over brand usage for consistent communications and interactions with the brand that are always on-message. Designers, advertising personnel, and intellectual property workers often create brand elements, and define rules for the usage of those elements, on behalf of their clients. For these individuals, the Creating a Brand Style Guide series provides help in building fuller, richer brand style guides, establishing brand asset distribution systems, and strategies—and a template—to fix brand usage rules and guidelines in a clear, easily distributable form.

Download our branding resources. You’ll receive Pariah Burke’s step-by-step document on how to create a brand style guide and a template you can use to build your own.


Before we talk about anything else, let’s define the word “brand.”

There are many conflicting laymen’s definitions you’ll find for the word “brand,” many seeking to limit the idea of branding to specific representative elements. Some people define brand as rancher’s do, as the logo seared onto their business card, website, Twitter avatar, and the remainder of their herd of assets. But that’s not your brand; that’s your logo. Even if you are a livestock rancher, the business definition of your brand is far more than merely your logo, whether that logo is on the end of an iron pole or printed on the side of pens you give away at conventions. Your brand is also the iron pole itself, and the arm and cowboy wielding it; it’s the manner, place, and time in which your livestock is seen—on your ranch, where you control the interactions with your brand, and out in the wild, when a rider comes upon a steer bearing your logo when you aren’t around to put that logo or even the cow into context. Your brand is everything about your company, everything visual and visceral. It’s the look and feel of your company to other people.

Let that last sentence sink in. Your brand is “the look and feel of your company to other people.”

How much can you control other people’s perceptions? Successful marketing people will answer, “quite a bit.” They’re right; you can control other people’s perceptions a great deal—never totally, but significantly—if you carefully regulate your persona and consistently present that same persona in every interaction you have with others. Individual people often do create and reveal only specific sides of themselves. Frequent presenters, for example, employ on-stage personas, personalities that are cultivated, slightly better-than-real-life versions of themselves they use during every presentation. Actors, sales people, effective managers, and other successful professionals of any vocation similarly adopt a consistent business persona, leaving out of the office, sales floor, or stage those aspects of their personalities not relevant to the job while focusing on the strengths they bring to the job. They present this polished persona every time they interact with the public, prospects, and partners. Personas adopted by individuals are part of their brands. Steady repetition of those personas during the first and all subsequent interactions is what establishes personal brand identities.

A company’s brand identity is formed by the same simple principal: consistent repetition.


Each time your logo is seen, it must look the same—and logo usage consistency is much more than simply choosing the same colors every time. Every document produced by your company must carry a common design and structure, no matter whether it was authored by Human Resources or by a freelance copywriter. Different mediums present color, imagery, and text dissimilarities, so extra care must be taken to enact media-specific compensations for native variances to create designs and publications that match as closely as possible across presentation forms. Every fragment of your company’s visual identity, its every use in every logical medium, must be defined first, then controlled to accomplish consistent presentation that establishes and then enforces the message—the brand—you want to convey.

The best way to create, communicate, and enforce brand consistency is with a brand style guide. Sometimes called a brand bible, a brand book, or simply a style guide, a brand style guide clearly presents the brand identity in acceptable uses with unambiguous instructions that help others replicate those acceptable uses and to present the persona of your company as you, the brand manager, want it conveyed. A brand style guide is a digital repository of all the rules and guidelines, sometimes even the intent, of presenting, of operating as, of being, the brand. The guide, which is distributed to all personnel who touch the brand, both in-house and external, ensures that everyone is following the same rules and presenting the brand the same way every time. With a well-crafted brand style guide, it won’t matter whether H.R. or Marketing authors a document or if a freelance copywriter or hired design agency produces it; every document composed by anyone will look the same and present the same look, tone, and feel of the brand.

With every presentation of the brand, and thus every interaction of the brand with outside entities, governed by your brand style guide, you can control how the world perceives your brand.


Your brand is your communication—every communication, in every form, whether it’s an active or passive interaction. Your brand is how your company speaks for itself when a customer, vendor, or the press gives your company a chance to speak for itself as well as what your company says passively while being viewed from a distance. A brand style guide gives your team the direction it needs to control those interactions, to ensure that every interaction between your brand and someone else, communicates what you want to communicate with as little room for inference as possible.

Over the next five installments of Creating a Brand Style Guide we’ll focus on defining, illustrating, and imparting your visual brand identity. Once you know what your brand is and how to tell others to represent it correctly, you’ll learn strategies for disseminating that information, creating a comprehensive guide that communicates your brand style rules to anyone who works with it. We’ll explore the unique challenges your brand visuals face in the most common modern channels of print, Web, social media, ebook EPUB, fixed-layout ebooks, PDF and other digital publications, and video and broadcast. For each of those challenges will be a solution strategy for assuring brand consistency regardless of the medium.

In this first installment we defined what brand means and how important it is to define a framework for the consistent, controlled representation of that brand in all media. As we move through the rest of the series, we’ll look in turn at the different elements comprised by your brand, how to interpret them, and how to define the rules and guidelines for each element’s correct, consistent and even legal use. The final installment of the series culminates in combining all of the elements and rules you’ve crafted into a cohesive brand style guide document, either one you design yourself or by using the slick, professional brand style guide template I’ll provide in Part 6: “Building a Brand Style Guide for All Media.”


In the next installment, Part 2: “Defining and Communicating Your Logo Uses,” you’ll learn to think of your logo in terms of an asset that must be protected through strict usage and placement rules. You’ll create different versions, color spaces, and formats to account for its use in any situation and medium, including print, on the Web, in ePUB and fixed-layout ePUB, video, and other media. You’ll learn how to manage and organize your different logo editions for easy access by any teammate, partner, or client, as well as how to communicate logo usage guidelines and proper treatment for each rendition of the logo right within the logo file itself. You’ll learn to document through text and visuals rules required sizes, placements, and spacing around the logo, alignment of the logo relevant to specific surrounding elements, and other common brand style guide requirements for consistent logo application. In addition, you’ll even find a guide to creating CSS code to properly set the logo position, alignment, and spacing within EPUB and Web HTML.

Whether you are starting from scratch or wanting to improve your current brand strategy, we’ve got tools to help you achieve your goals. Download our branding resources and you’ll receive Pariah Burke’s step-by-step document on how to create a brand style guide and a template you can use to build your own.