Using a style guide to apply a consistent visual identity
Yay – so you listened to marketing advice and invested in developing a great logo for your business. Well done. But don’t rest on your laurels yet – unfortunately it’s not enough to have a sharp logo and slap it randomly on any marketing piece that stands still long enough. Like a tradie and her tools, you need to know how to apply it correctly. Using a style guide to apply a consistent visual identity will help you get the most bang for your branding buck.
What is visual identity?
A brand’s visual identity refers to the overall look of all its communications. At the core of your visual identity is your brand mark or logo, but there are other elements that add up to give consistent and clear clues about what your brand stands for. These include the fonts you use, the colours you choose and even your social media images. The visual factors all work together to reinforce the values that underlie your brand.
So how do you exercise some control over your brand’s visual identity to boost your brand?
Manage your identity with a style guide
Is a style guide the latest copy of Vogue? Nope. Your style guide is like a set of IKEA instructions to tell you how to apply your brand consistently (minus the Allen Key). It’s like a checklist of the fonts, sizes, colors, and image types that are appropriate to your brand, and how you should use them.
Developing a style guide
Who develops the style guide (sometimes known as a brand bible)? The graphic designer who helped your with your logo would be a logical first stop. But if there is something stopping you from getting in touch with them (perhaps they’ve chosen an easier and more lucrative profession such as lion taming) try to find another experienced designer to help you.
Why not develop a style guide yourself?
Well, a graphic designer worth his salt will do things such as give you the colour codes for print and web so that you can look consistent across all media. They will also be able to make sure your logo mark is suitable for all purposes e.g. mono, compacted versions or vertical versions. And they will be positively overzealous about selecting fonts that are the perfect complement to your brand. Seriously – don’t get designers started on talking about fonts.
A style guide should not only spell out how to use your brand’s visual elements – it should show you how not to, which is even more useful in many ways.
What you should look for in your style guide
A graphic designer can help you choose a set of fonts that work well together (for example in headline and body text) and also translate well across web and print.
Restraint in font use is advised! There is nothing as messy and distracting as too many fonts, used inappropriately. Sans serif fonts are quite popular as they are clean and sharp, but serif fonts are considered easier to read as they lead the eye from letter to letter. Keeping your target audience in mind will guide your font choice.
Size and Positioning
Your style guide should guide the consistent positioning and size of your logo. If you are using a logo as a watermark over images, make sure you can see it. If your brand guidelines don’t let you use alternate coloured versions of your logo (e.g. black or white) you may need to introduce elements into your images such as a semi-transparent overlay to help the logo stand out. The logo should never be so small that the tagline or other elements are too difficult to read.
It can be a game of guesswork trying to figure out what a brand’s true colours are by looking on a screen or a piece of printed collateral. So many factors such as screen calibration or paper choice can affect the final outcome. Your style guide should outline your brand’s true colour values in the colour palette. There are different colour values assigned for print methods (Pantone spot colours and CMYK) and screen display (RGB and HEX). Some brands will outline a primary palette and a secondary palette to create options for a range of applications.
Visual Identity is what we notice first
Portraying your brand to its best effect is not just about spraying your logo around willy nilly. While there are many elements that contribute to your brand such as customer experience and tone of your marketing materials, applying a consistent visual identity is important as sight is one of the first senses we rely on to make meaning. Having a coherent visual identity helps your business create an emotional connection with your customer and differentiate from the competition.
If you need some inspiration, check out this collection of style guides from big and small companies.
Need some help with your visual identity and branding?
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