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Your style guide, or branding guidelines document, is an instruction manual for how to use your company's branding materials. The point of a style guide is consistency, and an intelligent style guide is part of ensuring that your brand is promoted consistently, both internally and outside the company. The style guide explains the values of your brand and where relevant, its history and its evolution. It shows the logos of your brand and clearly explains when and how they should be used, and tries to anticipate potential misuses.
It shows the colors of your brand, with numerical breakdowns of those colors, for use in print and onscreen. It explicitly states the appropriate usage of other design elements of your brand, like the type choices and the use of imagery, as well as the appropriate writing tone to be used in all communication. The style guide is an important part of the branding process, but it is just a part. This diagram, adapted from Alina Wheeler's Designing Brand Identity, shows how a development of a style guide fits into the overall process of designing a company's brand identity.
So that process begins with research, and in the research phase you'll interview the concerned parties, evaluate existing brands, and determine the vision, strategy, and goals of your brand. Next, you'll clarify the strategy, come up with a naming strategy, develop key messages, and write a creative brief. Then the actual designing of the identity begins, and you'll present a visual strategy of this design identity.
Stage four, you'll finalize that identity, develop the look and feel of the brand. And then stage five that's where the style guide comes in, as well as developing a strategy for launching the brand. So that's where the style guide fits into the equation of designing a brand identity. It's a very important part, but it is just a part of that whole process.
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