A style guide should have a few main components, but often times it gets bogged down in a lot of “descriptive jargon” that is just not that useful for your typical non-profit organization or association. A style guide is needed so that anyone who is creating marketing materials for you will have the basic components and rules to maintain brand consistency and cohesion, but this does not need to be the next Iliad.
Your basic style guide needs to have some examples of your brand’s personality, how it talks about itself in different circumstances and then examples of the visuals that support this messaging. I have seen a lot of style guides during my tenure as a graphic designer and brand strategist, and more often than not I come away thinking, “Half of that was not necessary and only would confuse people who are not used to looking at or using this type of thing.” Keep it short and sweet, less is more.
Here are the basics:
1. Come up with a concise list of frequently asked questions about your organization and then answer them clearly with the tone and feel that you want others to use. This gives your brand champions/staff members/volunteers easy talking points without bogging them down in concept and explanations. Show don't tell.
2. Provide examples of how your logo can and should be used across your various marketing channels and materials so that people using your logo do not stretch or deform it. Remember to show black, white and colored backgrounds as well as in print and for the web.
3. Identify primary and secondary color palettes. If you really only want neutral tones with one pop of color used, show that, but make sure you have a enough secondary colors that your brand will feel consistent and unified without feeling dull and flat. Many organizations/associations have silos to their programs, so being able to color code these different areas is often useful.
4. Provide font families for print and web. If you are not providing people with fonts that you have purchased, make sure that you choose some strong, free web fonts. Always using Arial can get pretty boring, so look into widely used Google Fonts. Their library has gotten pretty extensive now and you can find some good stuff. In this section of your guide, you also want to show people how to layout text. Show a few samples of headlines, headings, sub-headings, body text, quotes, bulleted lists and provide line-heights and letter-spacing notes.
5. Include photography and iconography examples. Your look and feel is important as well as any sensitivities you want to make sure brand messengers are aware of. Showing samples of good photography (even if it is stock) that illustrate the correct tone as well as any color or texture treatments is important to make available.
Final Note: It is important to provide guidance to those who are going to create print and/or digital assets that support your brand. It is also important to have your brand messaging and visual identity clear, consistent and cohesive. However, this can be easily accomplished in under 20 pages. Keep it simple.
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