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This one time (at band camp?), a logo I designed was butchered. But that experience led to an epiphany: I didn’t set my client up for success. I didn’t give him the information he needed to make visual decisions for his brand in the future. I just sent him the logo files in a zip folder and said, “Thanks!” And that was it.

What I learned is that whenever we hand work over to our clients, we need to give them an instruction manual. This is especially important for branding projects. But the same thing applies to anything we make for other people.

So think back onto your last projects. Did you set your clients up for success? If you work in-house, is your team all speaking the same visual language? If you own a brand, are you being clear with your vendors?

It’s something worth thinking about, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation like mine. Seeing your work out in the wild is a nightmare if the work is twisted and ruined.

Information is everywhere now, and sometimes we just need to know what to look for. There’s one thing that can solve a ton of these awkward situations… and in branding, it’s called a Style Guide. Style Guides serve as the instruction manual for the brand. It outlines the rules that designers have to follow when they’re working with the brand. And while the concept sounds restrictive, sometimes it’s nice to have clear boundaries. To have a neat sandbox to play in.

Some other terms that mean the same thing are Style Guidelines, Brand Guidelines, Brand Bible, Brand Manual, or simply Style Manual.

At a minimum, I would expect a Brand Style Guide to include:

1. An outline of all the logo and visual assets available
2. Guidance on when to use each version
3. Color and typography usage
4. Spacing and layout guidelines
5. Strong “DO NOTs” – things like squishing, stretching, and butchering the logo

This stuff feels self-explanatory… but what if your “self” wasn’t a designer? If I gave you a box of amazing ingredients like white truffles, wagyu steaks, and fresh uni… would you know what to do with them? Without a recipe, most of us would make Gordon Ramsay cry.

So set your work for success. Send off your designs with a style guide that follows that basic format. Clients will be clients, yes. Things will happen. But you’ll be able to prevent 90% of the mishaps we encounter in branding execution.

But style guides can go a lot deeper than that. For those of you who work in branding, you know this. They can be quite extensive. When I used to work with DreamWorks, we’d get style guides delivered to us in VOLUMES – literally several huge printed books for one movie.

Now, that’s probably overkill. But it’s going to benefit you and the brands that you work on in the long run to have a detailed Style Guide.

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