Brand guidelines are an essential business tool. Yes, after you check off all of the fundamental — but let’s be honest, boring — organizational paperwork (business license, articles of incorporation, etc.), you might not be thrilled to have one more thing on your list. Trust us, though — these are important. 

Brand guidelines, also known as brand standards or a brand style guide, are a set of rules and instructions for utilizing your brand in various mediums. This is a tool for designers both inside and outside of your company or organization, as well as writers and any other stakeholders who may have a role in presenting your brand. 

When you think of a brand, you may think of a company logo, but your brand guidelines should include much more than that. They are a complete story and documentation of your brand, from start to finish. It is all the visual creative elements, sure, but it is also your story. The way you talk to people. The people you are trying to talk to. Your values, your mission. Someone should be able to look at your brand guidelines and in less than five minutes understand everything there is to know about your company or organization. 

It is important to have established guidelines to streamline your design process for creatives who may be representing your brand, but it is also important that your brand use be clearly defined for legal reasons. Copyrighted text, trademarked names, logos and any applicable copyright language can be spelled out in your guidelines to prevent any misunderstandings around brand use. 

Brand guidelines, and your brand as a whole, aren’t a “set it and forget it” kind of item. While your brand should be stable, brand elements such as your logo, fonts and imagery should be updated and modernized as your company or organization evolves. 

No two companies or organizations are identical. It follows that brands guidelines differ greatly, too. Brand guidelines help communicate your company or organization’s identity, both internally and externally. But it can also be daunting to define your brand

A good first step when starting to create your brand guidelines is to ask questions such as: “If my company or organization was a person, who would they be?” and “What are two or three words that describe my company or organization?”

From there, you can hone in on what you need to communicate through your brand guidelines. Is your brand quirky and eclectic, professional and straightforward, or somewhere in between? Establishing the personality of your brand will help inform elements such as your brand colors, brand voice and imagery. 

The details included in your brand guidelines  should be specific to your company or organization. Consider what stakeholders encounter most often. Video production? You need your brand guidelines to focus on video. Have a huge following on Instagram? You may need brand guidelines that include Instagram Stories. Trying to increase your content production? You need brand guidelines around language. Consider your company or organization’s signage and other physical brand elements, too. Anywhere your brand is represented should be considered when creating your brand guidelines. 

With our partner Mountain Stage, we first identified the need for creating brand guidelines. Mountain Stage has many organizational partners through NPR and the public radio stations they work with, as well as the artists who perform on the show. The goal was to increase consistency across several channels. 

Our first step was to determine what channels Mountain Stage worked in most often and where the brand was most viewed. Mountain Stage has a presence online at mountainstage.org and through WV Public Broadcasting and through video productions during most of the pandemic. In addition, the organization has membership emails, social media and frequent communications with a network of nearly 300 public radio stations. 

After meeting with the Mountain Stage team and understanding the brand more from their perspective and the perspective of their partners Base Camp Printing, we were able to translate the brand’s personality into a color palette. It was also an opportunity to clean up existing brand assets, such as typography, and create consistency.

“Mountain Stage has been around for nearly 40 years. We work with hundreds of public radio stations, artists and  management teams each year. There have been many Mountain Stage logos used over the decades and being able to hand over a beautiful brand guide full of detailed instructions and up-to-date logos not only feels good, but makes us look great and in step with each other to properly promote broadcasts and live events,” said Associate Producer, Vasilia Scouras. “Working with Digital Relativity has been one of the smartest decisions for our organization. The DR team has given us a look, feel, and a voice that truly represents the spirit of Mountain Stage while providing us with intuitive tools and a digital platform we are proud to share.”

With Mountain Stage, it was fun and exciting to personify the Appalachian brand. The brand discovery meeting illuminated the need for different variations of the logo contingent on who was hosting the event and where it was being held. This is useful information to provide a partner outside of the organization, or larger organizational groups such as NPR in Mountain Stage’s case. The team can then entrust the logo files to someone previously unfamiliar with the Mountain Stage brand, giving them clear instructions on not only what the brand assets are, but also when and how to use them.

The DR design team has made numerous brand guidelines for our partners, but we also utilize others. Senior Graphic Designer, Josh Adams, uses West Virginia University’s guidelines for projects we work on with our partner, GoMart. Director of Digital Design, Matt Sanchez, is a fan of Toyota’s brand guidelines, which we used in creating signage for the company’s West Virginia location. 

For more inspiration, check out some of these examples of brand guidelines: 
Slack
Starbucks
Hulu
Leave No Trace

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