Style Guides: Who Needs Them? You Do.
Do a search on Google for “style guide,” and the search giant gives you nearly 65 million page results. The first entry was for a website offering 50 different style guides for every type of startup. Search for brand guides and Google delivers 338 million results! Try again with content style guide as your search term, and 83 million results appear. Check this blog, and you’ll find that EVG has written multiple articles about style guides, what they contain and the importance of using them. So why should we ask you to read one more article about them? Because it’s just that important.
Kathleen (Account Manager) and Sally (Marketing Coordinator) for EVG have teamed up to offer their insight into why they believe a guide by any name is absolutely essential to every brand publishing on the Web.
Does the name of the document matter? Yes. Name it and you own it. So it pays to determine exactly what you mean by how you name your guide.
Kathleen: I manage writers and editors, so I rely on a content style guide. If the client has one, we use it. If they don’t, I create one and have it approved by the client before we begin creating content. I’ve created many content style guides over the years, and each one is unique. When I start from scratch, I scour the client’s website to pull critical pieces of information and I’m not shy about asking the client for specific information. I even pull their logo and images into the guide to help the other users understand the client from every angle possible.
Sally: My job has a significant visual component. I do a lot of document design, both internally, for our team, and externally, for clients. Brand style guides really help me ensure the materials I create look consistent with the brand’s identity.
Generally speaking, and we’re painting with a very broad brush, we differentiate the three most common terms this way:
|Type of Guide||Audience||Purpose|
|Content style guide||Writers and editors||A series of content rules to keep the messaging consistent.|
|Brand style guide||Document designers||The visual elements of the brand.|
|Style guide||Writers, editors, document designers||A set of standards for the writing and design for brand messaging.|
What you leave out of your guide matters as much as what you put into it. Before adding to a current version or starting from scratch, determine and write down the purpose of the guide and identify the specific audience who will be using it. Once you know why it needs to exist, figuring out what goes into it is simpler.
Kathleen: I believe the best content style guide serves every project a company initiates. If you do it right, you only need to create one.
Sally: Some clients have very involved brand style guides, with highly specific requirements about font, color, spacing, images, etc. But even a simple guide that includes only a color palette, official fonts and logo versions means I have a better idea of the brand’s “look and feel.” If the client doesn’t have an official brand style guide, I ask them to provide those kinds of basic elements (or an existing branded document) and use that as a working guide. If you don’t have the bandwidth to create an exhaustive 100-page guide, just start with the basics.
Here are the essential components of a guide:
|Content style guide||Brand style guide|
|Overview of the brand’s primary audience||Overview of the brand’s look and feel|
|Rules for tone and voice||Preferred fonts and any size restrictions|
|Essential rules for grammar [Oxford comma: yes or no?]||Approved usage guide of logo versions and tagline(s) (i.e. Nike’s “Just Do It”)|
|Internal & external linking practices||Palette of approved brand colors|
|Editorial workflow||Any layout rules or specific visual elements|
|Guidelines for metadata, alt text and photo captions||Standards for image usage (i.e. “black and white only,” “no clip art”)|
|Preferences for text formatting||Optional but helpful: Examples of good and bad brand design|
Few people yearn to act as style guide enforcers, but if you’re going to do the job right, someone has to own the role of enforcing these brand standards. It’s up to each of member of the team to uphold their part of the process.
Kathleen: The best work is done by those who care about the details. And a content style guide keeps all those details following the same set of rules for a cohesive and consistent brand message. The writers I hire again and again pay attention to the details. They know when to use Wi-Fi and when to write WIFI. They rely on a content style guide to help them shape what they write so it speaks to the specific audience the brand has identified. Effective editors practically memorize the content style guide and make certain what they turn in adheres to every rule and guideline. And as a project manager, I live and die by the content style guide. If our content doesn’t meet the client’s expectations, I’m out of a job! That guide is my bible for delivering on-message and on-target content.
Sally: I firmly believe that a huge part of communication is visual, and that good brand design is an opportunity to make your content shine! You can have the smartest, most transcendent content in the world, but if it’s written in three arbitrarily different font sizes and accompanied by pixelated art, you’ve wasted an opportunity to make a good first impression. When your company collateral is visually consistent and brand-compliant, it inherently appears more professional and trustworthy. Remember, sloppy or unfocused design can detract from good content, while good design can elevate average content! So a brand style guide is not a luxury— it’s a necessity.
As youngsters, rules weren’t always perceived as a means to soar or the on-ramp to freedom. But at EVG, we know that an effective style guide gives our team members the ability to deliver outstanding content, whether it’s compelling imagery, persuasive infographics or inspiring stories.
If you’d like to learn more about how to put yours together, or if you’d like a little help in reviewing and polishing your version, we hope you’ll contact EVG.