Style guides for small businesses

Friday 28 August 2015

Style guides for small businesses

A basic style guide should include information about your logo, typeface, and corporate colours

Even very small businesses will have more than one item which represents and promotes their brand. In order to strengthen your brand, and present your business professionally it is desirable for each of these items to have the same look and feel.

Such consistency is not hard to achieve when you use just one designer as they will be familiar with the key elements of your design style. But what happens if you need or choose to use a different or additional designer? How can you make sure that this essential consistency will be retained?

The easiest way to communicate all the things that your designer will need to know is to provide them with your brand’s style guide. Style guides, or corporate identity guidelines, may seem like something that only large businesses need, but they are a tried and tested way to achieve consistency in work created by anyone who is designing on behalf of your business.

Your style guide can be as simple or as complicated as you need it to be. A basic style guide should include information about your logo, typeface, and corporate colours. However, if needed, you could extend this to cover a vast range of activities. For example, if you are producing printed publications with text and images, then it may also be useful to include elements such as typography, photography, writing guidelines, and paper specifications.

When putting together a style guide for your business try to consider all the different types of things you may need to have designed, and write guidelines accordingly. I have included a list of possible topics to include below. You will find that the information you are collating feels obvious to you, but it will be invaluable to someone who does not have the same level of familiarity with your brand as you do. And remember – you can always expand upon your guide in the future, if needed, so don’t feel that the first version has to be exhaustive.

If you would like any help putting together a style guide that represents your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Show exactly what your logo looks like. If you have multiple versions for different uses, or sizes, then show each one individually and explain when and where it is acceptable to use it.

The exact colour for each part of the logo should be specified using appropriate colour specifications. For example, for print design it is usual to specify Pantone colours and CMYK breakdowns, while for web use you should provide RGB and Hex colour specifications. You can find an explanation of the Pantone and CMYK colour specifications in my blog post from earlier this year.

Logo size and placement is important too – should your logo always be in the top right corner of a page? How much space should be left surrounding it? If you use a tagline with your logo how large should it be in comparison and what relative position should it have?

Importantly, you should always provide details of where high quality copies of your logo can be obtained. This will help avoid the use of low quality copies which have been pulled from the internet, or designers recreating your logo themselves.


The typeface you use has a massive bearing on the character of a design, so it’s important that you share this information in your style guide. You may have more than one typeface – one for headings and one for body text, or you may specify a different typeface for internal and external use. List each typeface individually with an explanation of where and when it is appropriate to use it.


Aside from the colours in your logo, you may also have a palette of colours that you use in designs. If this is a finite list then list all the colours, providing appropriate colour specifications, as described above. Alternatively, you may choose to provide an example of the types of colours you use – pastel colours, or bright primary colours and allow designers to choose other colours in the same vein.


This section would cover any guidelines that are necessary about the way that any text should be presented. If your target audience is primarily of an older generation, or have visual impairments then you may have guidelines about minimum type sizes, or minimum levels of contrast between text and the background.

On a more detailed level you may choose to specify any number of typographic guidelines about the use of punctuation like en-dashes or the Oxford comma. An alternative option would be to choose a commercially available style manual, such as New Hart’s Rules – The Oxford Style Guide, and request that these conventions be followed.


Consider whether a key part of your visual style relies on the use of images of a particular style, and presentation. Are your images always full page, desaturated, or high contrast? Simply changing the way that photographs are edited and presented can make a massive change to the feel of a document, so it’s important to try and pin down what your style is.

Writing guidelines

This section should provide guidance to anyone writing copy for your business. It would be helpful to include information about your corporate tone of voice – is it serious and factual, or fun and whimsical? Do you refer to your business in the third person, or first person? Do you avoid the passive voice? What is the correct way to write your business name? Should it always be written out in full, or is it acceptable to use an acronym after the first use?

Again, you could go on to specify many conventions about writing, eg whether you use -ise or -ize suffixes, or you could refer writers to a commercially available style guide.


Touch should not be ignored as one of the senses contributing to the overall impression of your business. And when you’re producing an item that is printed, the paper that you use will form part of that impression. Do you always use shiny paper, or does uncoated paper suit your business better? Do you want your business to appear overtly environmentally aware? You could specify the use of 100 percent recycled paper for your publications.

If you produce a lot of printed material you may choose one paper that you always use. This can help to provide consistency through your publications even if they are printed in different places, and at different times.

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Hello! I’m Sarah, an independent graphic designer & typographer, helping businesses to communicate their unique selling points through printed marketing and communications.

I’ve been sharing my knowledge about design, typography, marketing, branding and printing since 2014. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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Sarah Cowan