A simple template for sharing your brand guidelines

A brand is a lot more than logos, fonts, and colours. It’s what you stand for, who you serve, what you offer, and how you deliver. If you talk to a brand consultant or read articles about developing a brand, the colour stuff might not even get a mention.

But how you look is the first thing that people notice about your business.

If you’ve spent money on professional design, you’ll want to make the most of that investment. Your website, social media accounts, presentations, signs, leaflets and brochures all need to follow the same standard.

Even if you’re not ready to bring in a designer yet, you can fake a designer look on a budget. So long as you apply your brand consistently, no one needs to know your palette came from COLOURLovers and your typeface came from FontPair.

But how to make sure you - and everyone else in your team - sticks to the rules?

Brand guidelines keep things consistent

You probably use templates already to keep a consistent look. When you start a new presentation or set up a new blog post, the colours, fonts and layout are already set.

But what if you commission a new Facebook graphic from a freelancer? What controls your brand across all your digital spaces and printed documents? How can you make sure that the red on your website is the same red as the one in your PowerPoint template? How can you brief your new Upworker so their designs match all your other stuff?

That’s where brand guidelines help.

These guidelines go by many names: style guides, look books, brand books, cook books. They can be lengthy documents, covering everything from logos to colours, page layouts to tone of voice, graphic design to photography guidelines. But they don’t need to be epic to be useful. You can start your own brand guidelines with something simple.

A style tile is your starter pack for brand guidelines

Style tiles just capture the bare essentials for the look of your brand. They’re super quick to make.

If you have access to design software, you can use that. But the simplest thing might be to open up PowerPoint and draw something like this:

Start with your logo.

Not everyone has a logo. Don’t feel you have to rush off and buy one. You may use a wordmark, like many big brands. (Wordmark.it is a handy tool for finding your perfect wordmark font.)

Either way, I suggest you capture several versions: light, dark and greyscale. If you Google for the logo of any brand, you’ll find they usually have black, white and coloured versions. It means you can overlay your logo on any background.

If you’re comissioning a new logo, ask your designer to deliver these versions for you. And make sure you get (or make) a .png version on a transparent background, so you can overlay your logo on photos.

Move on to fonts

If you got a designer to do your website, they’ll have put a fair amount of thought into font choices. Capturing this information in your style tile means you can transfer that pricey digital design to all your other materials.

Take a look at one of your web pages. You’ll notice there’s a fairly limited number of different fonts at work:

  • H1 is usually the biggest text. It's for the top level heading on a page (also works for the slide title in a presentation).
  • H2 will be a bit smaller, for subheadings within a page, slide or document.
  • Body is the font used for the main text
  • Links are usually in the same font as the body text, but a different colour.

This is your basic set. For each type of text, note the typeface (eg Arial or Times New Roman), the size (eg 12pt) and the weight (light, regular, bold, italic etc). Plus the colour, if relevant.

You might also include an H3 font if you tend to write long documents, a special font for quotes, or details about emphasis (italics or bold).

Bear in mind that relative sizing is more important than absolute size. If you end up shrinking your body text for a Word document, shrink the H1 and H2 fonts too, so they stay in proportion. If you want to start with some recommended sizes, check out this quick reference guide on Typecast.

Finally - colours.

I suggest you keep your palette simple, at least to start with. Three colours might be a bit limiting, but five is plenty.

Don’t just put swatches. You need to note colour values too so people can reprodue the colour accurately. Some tools want RGB values, and some want hex notation, and it’s super convenient to have both to hand.

You may have colours set up already - for instance on your website. Work out what the numbers are for those colours using a colour picker. (I use this Chrome plugin.) Use the ‘eyedropper’ to pick up the colour you want, and write down the numbers the picker tells you. Then anyone can recreate the same exact colour by entering the same numbers.

New to colour by numbers? Here’s a quick guide:

To make colours on a computer, you mix light, not paint. Every colour is made of red, blue and green light. Hence R-G-B. When you specify a digital colour, you say how much red, blue and green light you want in the mix.

RGB(255,0,0,) is bright red: all the red light, no blue and no green. RGB(100,100,100) is grey: equal parts red, blue and green. RGB(0,0,0) is black: no light of any colour.

Some tools use hex values instead of RGB. A hex value uses 6 digits to represent all three colours. The first two digits control the red light, the second the blue and the third set green.

For example, the red bar in my logo is #a81024: lots of red, toned down with a little bit of blue and a little more green. The same colour in RGB is 168,16,36.

Optional extras - photos and graphics

Once you have your basics sorted, you might want to add a few more elements.

  • Photos. Do you always use the same style of photo for your website? Grab a few examples for your style tile.
  • Graphics. If you use infographics and diagrams a lot, you may find it useful to set styles for boxes, lines and icons. Useful if you outsource this work to several different freelancers.
  • Patterns and textures. If you use image backgrounds, or like your horizontal rules to be a certain way, add those too.
  • Buttons. Web designers often add button styles. You might not need to if you already have a site, as buttons aren’t used much elsewhere. If you built your site yourself and now you’re getting freelancers in to help you, capture every element. That ensures they build to the same styles as you did.

So there you have it: your mini look book on one slide. Print it out, stick it up, and be sure to enforce it, kindly but firmly!

How do you use brand guidelines to keep your business looking stylish?