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Style guides: useful, not pretentious

I know that many marketing managers in larger organisations sometimes find conforming to their corporate stylebook a real pain. I only spent about three years of my career in that sort of environment, but I know what a chore it can be. On the other hand, for most small to medium sized companies, the freedom to be able to do what you want can be overwhelming. Having even a limited rulebook can sometimes be a help, especially now that anyone in the organisation might be creating printed or online material.

But freedom can also be dangerous.

For example, one of the big considerations in a corporate stylebook is usually the use of colour. That doesn’t just mean defining the company’s exact Pantone numbers. It should also specify the number of colours that can or should be used on an item (such as a document or product). If you don’t do this, you can easily end up with someone producing a document that might have the precisely correct colour logo, but also have it surrounded by neon pink flashes.

With colour, if you want to project an air of class or seriousness, less is more. There’s a reason that the predominant colours inside Easyjet and Ryanair planes are orange and yellow. They want to say “cheap and cheerful”. I doubt that you do. Take a look at the websites of Rolex, Gucci or Bentley. The colour is left almost entirely to the products, and even those are usually quite muted.

It’s so easy to define huge areas of bright colour in print or on screen nowadays that it’s hard for some people to restrain themselves. But most people aren’t graphic designers, and they need some guidance from someone with a bit of restrained taste.

I reckon most of us could produce a corporate style guide which colleagues would find useful, not restrictive, in under a day. It might only be a page or two long, and if kept online, it could also act as a repository for all those logos and images which people can never track down. Creating one should be a genuinely worthwhile project.

Background reading:
Your Brand Needs a Visual Style Guide: Here’s How to Create One
How to Create Your Own Brand Guidelines
Frontify and an example made with it

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