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The Importance of a Brand Guidelines Manual

If you’re like most start-ups, your branding was built in bits and pieces by a number of suppliers. One designer may have built your logo, but a separate developer created your website and a third freelancer created your marketing collateral. You have usable materials and you’re selling a product/service, but do you have a brand?

In many cases, the answer to this question is NO.

Start-ups are just starting up and often the decision makers have limited experience working with designers. They know the elements that need to be created for the brand like the logo, stationary, website, etc., but aren’t totally sure how it all comes together. This is where a brand guidelines manual comes in! Also commonly referred to as a “style guide”, “graphic standards manual” or “brand bible”, it is the master document that gathers and defines all of the different elements within a brand and explains how to create new materials that are on brand and on target. If developed correctly, a strong brand guidelines manual will allow any designer to seamlessly develop new artwork for your company.

In a perfect world the standards manual should be developed immediately after the logo has been finalized or when an established business is re-branding. Unfortunately it often takes companies years to realize that their marketing materials are becoming disjointed and that the look and feel differs from one piece to the next. It’s a common mistake, but not the end of the world. A talented designer can come in and develop a brand manual at any stage of company’s life that will correct their trajectory moving forward.

Now you might be wondering, what exactly is included in these style guides? Content will vary from client to client based on their industry and specific needs, but the following will be included in one form or another in almost all brand guidelines:


Must Haves:

1. Brand Overview: A brand’s history, vision, personality and key values

2. Mission Statement: The purpose of your company

3. Logo Usage: When, where and how to use the different versions of your logo
4. Colour Palette: Web and print values for both primary and secondary colours
5. Typography: Details of your font family and default styles for different elements
6. Photography/Illustration: The overall style and acceptable types of imagery
7. Tone of Voice: How your brand should sound in all communications

8. Advertising Treatments: Layouts rules for all orientations of both web and print


Helpful to Include:

1. Stationary Templates: Business card, letterheads and envelope layouts

2. Web & Print Layouts: Templates and layout rules

3. Social Media: Specifications and copy tone

4. Merchandising: Clothing and promotional applications

5. Signage: Specifications and layouts
All of these sections should be outlined in detail with a focus on providing the information as clearly as possible. Labelled diagrams should accompany any sections that are difficult to explain in written form. In most cases the guide will be forwarded to suppliers and it will be up to them to read and understand it without further explanation. If questions arise after having read from cover to cover then the guidelines have not been explained correctly.

Hopefully this has helped you to understand both the importance of brand guidelines manuals and the content that is included with them. If you’re still unsure or need further visualization, you can view a few of the full manuals I have created here:

Barn Door Brewing Company Brand Guidelines Manual

Passi & Patel Brand Guidelines Manual


Grant Burke

Grant is a freelance designer and illustrator, born and raised in the Toronto area. He has worked with clients from around the globe and focuses on building unique brand identities and developing illustrations for product packaging and apparel.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Thanks for this! I’m just starting out my career as a freelancer and have received so many unclear guidelines as to what I should include in a style guide from past teachers/ colleagues and this by far was the most helpful. Next time someone asks me what should be included, I’ll share this post!

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