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How to Create a Brand Style Guide in 5 Steps (Tips + Examples)

Learn how to create a comprehensive style guide that empowers everyone on your team to create cohesive, consistent brand content.

One of the hardest parts about owning a brand, growing a business, and launching a rebrand is maintaining quality and consistency in your brand’s content. That includes working on materials yourself, handing the work off to employees, or describing your brand to many content creators and freelancers. Without the right vision and direction, you can end up with content in the wrong colors, the wrong font, distorted logos, and an overall Frankenstein’s Monster for a brand. This bricolage of a brand can lessen your brand’s integrity and lose you valuable clients. The solution? Create a comprehensive brand style guide and use it.

What is a Brand Style Guide?

What is a Brand Style Guide?

A brand style guide is the documentation of your brand identity, in a document or micro-site, presented in a format that makes it easy to apply to any content you create. From brand voice, writing tone, logo marks, and color applications, it’s a toolkit to help you present a consistent and cohesive brand to your audience.

Brand style guides can come as .pdf documents, a single web page only you have access to, or a micro-site that your team has and can share. Brand style guides help everyone in your company and all content creators you hire to keep your brand looking the way it should in every application from social media posts to parking lot signs.

Why do Businesses Need a Brand Style Guide?

3 Reasons Businesses Need a Brand Style Guide

Everything a business creates should be cohesive with the brand. Of course, the larger your business network, the more challenging and time-consuming it can be to monitor content and assure all your collateral is on-brand. (That doesn’t just include freelancers, but internal teams who can sometimes get lax as well.)

Not only does a brand style guide provide consistency, but it also benefits your brand in several ways.

Greater Quality Control 

  • Not every company has an Art Director at the ready to look over every project, every piece of content, and every piece of collateral, especially when you’re running up against deadlines. Having well-documented brand guidelines helps you have greater quality control over the content you’re producing. 

Increased Comprehension

  • Life is easier with good design and clear communication. Guidelines for things like data visualization, color use, typography, and logo placement help all creators design content that is more effective. This elevates your overall brand content experience. This also shows that you value the time of your own content, and in turn, your audience should value it as well. When you design your content consistently and clearly, you are able to help set visual expectations so people are able to get their information quicker and more efficiently.

Better Brand Recognition

  • Brand Guidelines help you deliver a more cohesive brand experience which in turn helps people build up the image of your brand in their heads. I like to say, consistently kills, and with properly implemented brand guidelines, your brand is more easily recognized and associated with your offer. Your audience will recognize your brand and come to not only rely on but also seek you out for your content and brand.

What should a Brand Style Guide Include?

Three Things every Brand Guide should include.

The goal of a brand style guide is to create a practical guide that empowers you and your creators to create any variety of on-brand material. This can range from letterheads and proposals to social posts, fundraising pitch decks, and environmental graphics. (But if you need help with your environmental graphics, we have you covered, just check out this article on Environmental Design).

While brand style guides are often thought of as eye candy for designers, every company needs a document that helps people understand how your brand looks and speaks to the world. This is imperative for any and all kinds of business growth. A brand style guide should include

Brand Core

Think of the brand core as the high-level, driving force behind your brand’s core principles. These influence everything from the way you speak to your audience to the reason you design your website the way you do. Your brand core encompasses things like:

  • Brand Purpose: Why You Exist
  • Brand Vision: What Future Looks Like and How You Help Create It
  • Brand Mission: What Your Brand is Here to Do
  • Brand Values: What Principles Guide Your Actions and Behavior

Written Identity

Usually confused with Verbal Identity or Brand Voice, your Written Identity is how you speak about your company’s brand in all forms of writing. From product descriptions to email newsletters and communicating with customers, your Writing Identity helps you express your brand in language. This includes:

  • Brand Writing Voice
  • Brand Writing Tone
  • Brand Writing Personality
  • Brand Tagline
  • Brand Value Proposition
  • Brand Messaging Pillars and Differentiators

Visual Identity

Your visual identity is everything your customer sees. Literally. From the very first social media profile image to your storefront and customer flow through checkout, your visual identity encompasses everything your clients come in contact with. This includes at the minimum:

  • Logo
  • Colors
  • Typography
  • Photography
  • Wayfinding
  • Paint Colors and Hierarchy
  • Iconography
  • Data Visualization
  • *Note, if you’re just starting out, you may not yet have a comprehensive brand identity created. You should, however, at least have the basics like logo, color, and typography, as well as brand voice and personality guidelines. 

If there are elements that you’re missing or are lacking, let’s have a quick chat about how we can help.

What makes a good Brand Guide?

What Makes a Good Brand Style Guide?

My grandpa Walt used to have a bucket for water with holes in the bottom. That’s what it’s like having an incomplete style guide—it’s as useful as not having one at all. In order to create a brand style guide that holds water, it ought to be:


  • As I wrote previously, your style guide should help anyone and everyone you bring on to create on-brand collateral and materials. Make sure to include as much relevant information as possible in your guide.


  • A brand style guide that is too overwhelming, on the other hand, means that your people aren’t likely to use it. Provide clear direction with helpful examples in order to avoid a cumbersome document your team will avoid like Covid.


  • Everyone on your team should be able to easily access your brand style guide. Many large companies even publish their brand guidelines to micro-sites which allows everyone in their company to access it, and also allows others to wonder in amazement at everything they have figured out. 

Most importantly, your brand style guide should be everything your team needs. Whatever you and your team might need, make sure your brand style guide is up to the task.

How to Create a Brand Style Guide in 5 Steps

How to Create a Brand Style Guide?

Now that you know what a brand style guide is, what one should include, and what makes one worth its weight in ink, it’s time to create one! Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a brand identity guide.

Choose your Brand Style Guide format.

Step 1: Choose Your Format

Depending on the needs of your team, company, and brand, a style guide can come in many formats. 

Printed Brand Guides (Static)

Traditionally brand style guides have been printed and bound. There are guides that get printed and circulated to each desk at the company, and others that are truly beautiful works of graphic design. (I own numerous brand guideline books from companies such as NASA, IBM, The NY Transit Authority, and many more purely for inspiration). 

Digital Brand Guide (Static)

Digital files are the simplest way to make your brand accessible to everyone on your team, especially if your team is spread across the world. Digital files, like a brand .pdf, can be accessed anywhere, though can also easily be forgotten in a mountain of emails and files. 

Website Brand Guide (Interactive)

With companies sprawling their workforce around the world, more and more are opting for interactive brand style guides. Simple to navigate, a microsite brand guide can easily be bookmarked, updated, and evolved in an instant making them as fluid as the company.

Depending on your needs as a company, you may use more than one type. Just make sure that everyone has access and is able to clearly communicate your brand.

Create a Table of Contents.

Step 2: Create a Table of Contents (TOC)

At the top of this article, you may have noticed a table of contents that may have helped you navigate to this very spot! Similarly, your brand style guide should be easy to navigate so that it’s not a pain every time you need to create a piece of branded content. 

Your brand guidelines are the tactics for executing your brand strategy. Therefore, they need to be accessible, easy to find, and help your team execute, not hinder them. 

Build your Brand Style Guide

Step 3: Build Your Brand Style Guide

With an outline in place, you can start to fill out your guidelines. As you write your copy and outline design parameters, focus on clarity and practicality. To make your guide easier to use and understand, add in examples, tips, sidebars, etc. as if you were teaching someone about your brand. Some Pro Tips to include:

Dos and Don’ts:

Outline three or four ways to do something, and three or four ways not to do something. These examples can be helpful in identifying mistakes to avoid.


It might not be realistic, or even an option for you, to have an Art Director look over every single piece of content you produce. As such, it can be helpful to have checklists to catch little errors—like logo usage, color codes, and photographic style—before your team sends anything to print. 


Giving examples is the best way to have someone duplicate your work (that’s why I never gave examples as a design professor). Showing examples of your typographic hierarchy, the correct logo dimensions, what your writing looks like on social media vs. email, etc., all add value to your brand style guide. Showing these things in context makes them much easier to duplicate for you and your team.

Tools and Resources:

Do you have a bookmarked page that helps you think about the tone of writing? What about a vision board for your social media posts? If you have access to tools or a library of resources you use, then odds are that your team will find it helpful as well.

For each section, keep in mind the balance between comprehensiveness and practicality. A brand style guide can quickly become uncumbersome, so ensure each section is concise and to the point. You don’t want to design a paper doorstop that no one wants to pick up. You want a clear guide that’s easy to follow and invites people to be creative with your brand on your behalf.

Remember: The most helpful brand guidelines don’t tell, they show. Let the design do the heavy lifting everywhere you can. Plus, your guide is a piece of branded content, which means that you can even inject it with doses of your brand personality!

Test your Brand Style Guide

Step 4: Test Your Brand Style Guide

Whether you have one content creator or 100, the point of your brand style guide is to eliminate uncertainty about how to design on-brand content. It is always helpful to have someone proof and sanity-check your guide before distributing it on a large scale. This vetting process can help you avoid a flood of questions and comments. 

To quickly test your brand style guide, share it with someone familiar with the brand (or rebrand process) and ask them:

  • Is it clear?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Are there additional items that would improve it?

Your brand style guide is only as useful as it is helpful for your team.

Make Your Brand Style Guide Accessible.

Step 5: Make Your Brand Guidelines Accessible

Perhaps the most common reason people ignore brand guidelines is that they’re hard to access. By making sure your guide is in an easy-to-find place (ie. Your brand microsite, or a beautiful publication on their desk), you put your brand within reach for your team. 

The most successful brand implementation strategies include brand training upon launch. By taking the time to explain the new brand, how it gets used, and how you expect it to be implemented, you can set your team up for success.

4 Brand Style Guides to Inspire You

1. Mailchimp

The strongest part of Mailchimp’s brand style guide is its guidelines for writing. While Mailchimp provides a guide for their visual identity, the Mailchimp Content Style Guide is an incredible resource for all of their content writers. Covering everything from goals and principles to writing about the company versus writing about other people, the guide is an invaluable resource to uphold their branding. 

2. Starbucks

Maintaining a megabrand like Starbucks would be impossible without comprehensive brand guidelines and a stellar creative team. To help them stay on track, Starbucks has a microsite dedicated to their brand guidelines. The site includes things like logos and colors and even photography and writing tone. Perhaps the most interesting part of their guidelines is the use of the spectrum. Certain elements, like illustration style, come with a guided spectrum ranging from functional to expressive which is a great way to cater to a larger audience.

Starbucks has also recently invested millions of dollars in reimagining its stores. What used to be dimly lit, dark cafés that have become the standard for coffee shops around the world are now light, bright, and inviting places to work for an afternoon. This intentional shift is part of their new brand strategy, and so thief brand guidelines include their physical stores.

3. The City of Chicago

It’s rare for American cities to have comprehensive brand identities (though the value to the city would be immeasurably positive). Chicago has long had a flag the people loved and recently adapted its design into a brand guide of its own. 

Chicago’s brand guide microsite cover’s the city’s official design system, symbols, and lockups. For a city, it’s important to be able to include multiple departments, personnel, and public marks in the larger identity. The guidelines outline how the system works within the city and with all other departments, making it comprehensive and practical. Pair this with the interactive web guide and how-to section and this brand guide gets four out of four red stars.

4. Dropbox

Last on our list is possibly the most comprehensive, Dropbox. The Dropbox brand style guide comes as its own full website and includes everything one could imagine: brand strategy, customer journeys, logo, typography, shape, UI systems, and a manual of writing style. 

The Dropbox brand guide is everything the company needs to execute its brand. It’s clear, simple, and so easy to access that a quick online search brings it up as an immediate result.

Always Keep Your Brand Guidelines Updated

Every brand is growing and changing over time so your brand style guide should reflect that. Work with your brand team or design agency to schedule regular maintenance, content reviews, and updates to make sure your brand is being appropriately applied. Don’t be afraid to let your team tell you what needs to be updated as well—many hands make light work.

Most importantly, have regular conversations about what is and isn’t working. Your team will have ideas for what will make it easier to use, what tools they need, and how to help them best maintain the brand. 

Of course, if you don’t have the capacity or expertise to create your brand guidelines, find out what it’s like to work with me on your brand identity. I’d be happy to take it off your plate.

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