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Colin Lange

A Tale of Two Style Guides

During my first job as a designer, I worked on a four-page fold out brochure, a seemingly simple task with some images, copy and call outs. I placed the logo in the bottom right corner of the cover page, in the exact spot to balance the headline text with the image underneath it.

This. Brochure. Was. Perfect.

That was until my supervisor flopped a 50-page document on my desk. It was a style guide that detailed every minute aspect of the brand and very clearly stated that the logo could never be placed in the bottom right corner of a page. Never. Ever.

I was thrown into designer’s angst. If I moved the logo to the left this would throw everything off and the headline text would no longer work where it was. I would have to move the image and there just wasn’t enough space for it anywhere else. Simply put: This bossy style guide demolished my perfect design.

I flipped through the rest of the style guide and huffed, “Is the whole brand really going to fall apart if one logo on one brochure gets placed on the right side instead of the left?”

Over my years as a designer, I’ve followed countless style guides and I’ve created some for brands I’ve developed. Creating a style guide is like guarding a brand. After spending weeks grooming a brand, making it look and feel just right, I don’t want another designer coming along and giving it a haircut, or changing its clothes, or teaching it to speak differently.

Style guides, also called brand or identity guidelines, are put in place for many reasons. They give structure to a brand and ensure brand consistency across multiple platforms. They specify what colors, fonts, and images to use, talk about tone of voice, provide templates, and state preferred layouts. Style guides can be rigid, providing the designer with strict rules that cannot be broken. They can also be flexible, showing the designer different style directions to take when executing a project for a client. Ultimately style guides are made to protect a brand, to prevent it from becoming diluted over time. They define what a brand is, but more importantly, they define what a brand is not.

Think of it as care and feeding manual for this brand, ensuring that the identity remains intact.
To that end, when creating a style guide, I often find myself going to painful lengths trying to account for every possible situation new designers working on my brand baby may find themselves in.

But when it comes to using style guides, I’ve budged a bit since that first brochure project. While I sometimes feel the rules are too constricting, style guides take away decisions and guess work. Rules also give insight and meaning into the reasons for every brand element.

Brands also live online in an ever-shifting landscape of user interactions. Brands interact with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people per day and they need to be flexible enough to meet this challenge.

The best brands are very much alive, and they grow and evolve over time. Therefore, the best style guides allow them to do the same.

And sometimes, just sometimes, they need to allow a designer to put a logo on the right bottom corner of the page.