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What a Style Guide Can and Can't Do For You

The Changing Need for Brand Style Guides

I have a library of style guides. There was a period as a freelancer and then in the early days of TIV when we acted as the graphics department for a number of large agencies in San Francisco. We worked on brands ranging from automobiles to banks, blue jeans to giant tech companies, liquor companies to other liquor companies. And each project kicked off with a review of the brand style guide. The point of this review was to make sure I didn’t go rogue and introduce new brand elements…and if I did they had the right to slap me on the nose and remind me that “It’s in the style guide.”

And while those stye guides served a very important purpose – keeping us on-brand – there are other reasons nowadays why a style guide is essential for every brand. We have a number of clients that have passed on the budget necessary to develop a style guide. Their reasoning is that they don’t outsource any of their design work, so there’s no need. But if that’s true, then why do we have a TIV Branding style guide? I promise I’m not outsourcing any of my self-promotion design projects…it’s some of our favorite work.

The reason is, as the number of channels being used to promote brands expands with digital, and the initiatives being used to market companies become more and more nebulous, there are a lot more opportunities to really mess up a brand. Regardless of whether you use an in-house team to do all of your design and marketing or outsource these tasks, the need for guardrails is very real. The style guide can be broad enough to encompass different approaches for social media vs print vs web, but the strategy needs to be well thought out and well documented.

We’re working on a style guide right now for a client that has 6 people in their marketing department including 3 designers. The designers don’t need a brand style guide…they live the brand everyday. What they do need is an agreed upon document that they can use to keep the numerous people in the organization that have input on their design work inline. “Make the logo bigger” can be countered with “The style guide recommends we leave this much room around the logo at all times.” Suddenly there has to be a strategy behind changes rather than just an aesthetic preference.

So no matter the size of your brand or the number of people that touch it, spend the time on a brand style guide. The effort will be paid back tenfold in the consistency of your branding.


Brandt Hoekenga is the Co-CEO and Creative Director for TIV Branding
TIV Branding is a boutique branding firm in Sonoma County, California. We specialize in building brands by using traditional, social and digital channels in unison. If you would like to discuss a project or find out more about how we do what we do, please email us at info@TIVbranding.com.