January 3, 2018

Design Stuff Every Business Needs : Brand Guidelines

As a business owner, it can be difficult to determine exactly what pieces of “design stuff”, or collateral, you need for your brand. Business cards, letterheads, websites… it can really add up both in the time it takes to create those pieces, and the cost of having them created. It’s important for you to prioritize what collateral will benefit your business needs now, and what can wait until later.


Brand Guidelines

Check out Stihl’s brand guidelines here.


Let’s start here, because this is a big one, and arguably the first and most important design asset you should invest in. As a successful business; one that is instantly recognizable, and visually grabs the attention of your target audience, you need Brand Guidelines. Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, Home Depot, Target, Caterpillar, or, I don’t know… any other crazy successful brand in any conceivable sector all have them. These brands stick out in our minds because they follow a repeatable set of design standards that over time become memorable to us as consumers. This not only helps the brand stay front of mind when it’s time to make a purchase decision; it also helps create a sense of security, trustworthiness, and loyalty within us as consumers. Brand Guidelines are the design Bible of the brand, and inform everyone who uses it on how the brand should be presented to the world.


MailChimp provides their brand guidelines on their website, to be sure everyone will present the brand consistently.


Often, Brand Guidelines are created along with a new logo, although not necessarily. For instance, if a business loves their logo, but wants a slightly different feel to the brand overall, they may update their Guidelines. The Guidelines can be quite lengthy, or a one page document, depending on what feels necessary to clarify regarding the do’s and don’ts of how to use your brand. They often include at least theses things:

  • Approved Logos
  • Approved Colors
  • Fonts
  • Additional imagery (icons or photos)


Let’s look at the Approved Colors section, and how that affects branding. You’d never see a blue McDonald’s sign with purple lettering! This is because McDonald’s designers have deemed a certain red and yellow to be their brand colors. If they were to stray from that rule, the instant recognizability of McDonald’s would be muddied, and the brand would lose the power it had in the public conscience. Colors, logos, and fonts are pretty obvious design features, and simply specifying which ones to use in your guidelines will cover a lot of design needs. However, some extremely thorough brand guidelines go so far as to indicate what kind of tone is appropriate for any written copy accompanying the brand, or what kinds of photography can be used. The more that is included, the more rigid the design constraints are, and the more consistent the visual presentation will be. It’s a pretty good idea to set up these rules if you’re trying to differentiate yourself in a sea of other businesses.


As a service based, lifestyle business, Megan Pflug Designs only needs a one pager as guidelines for how to direct her interior design business.


You might be saying, “That’s all fine and well for McDonald’s as a global brand, but what do I care? I don’t even intend to extend my business beyond my city’s limits. As long as people can find me with a Google search, what does it matter?”

Let me be the first designer you’ll ever hear say: You could live without brand guidelines. Truly. That is if you have steady website traffic, more clients knocking on your door than you can handle, and have no desire to expand: then, yes, you’re all set. Perhaps you have a generic offering that many people need, but don’t have any specific loyalty to. This isn’t a bad thing: generic over the counter medicine, for example, excels in a market of people who just want aspirin, and don’t care about much beyond pricing. It also requires very little marketing because of the general need for the item. However, if you’re like the rest of us (and this includes McDonald’s) you recognize that a unique, and consistent, visual identity will only help tell your story better, across every platform you want to tell that story on, and your target audience will have an easier time remembering you.


“The great part is, you only need to know how you want to have your brand presented: you don’t actually have to know anything about doing it.”


With guidelines, you’re equipped with a rule book for how your business should be presented, no matter where it’s featured. The great part is, you only need to know how you want to have your brand presented: you don’t actually have to know anything about doing it. Brand Guidelines will help your website designer create an on-brand web experience. They’ll help your package designer create packaging that matches your business’s aesthetic for your new product; differentiating you from your competitors’. They’ll help your intern create consistent Facebook Ad imagery without you having spend time critiquing their every decision. They’ll help your local print shop create a last minute flyer for a sale before Black Friday; one that doesn’t look like the thousands of other stock flyers out there.

All you had to do was send along a couple of important files, and your Brand Guidelines to all of these people, and say, “Go”.


IBM Watson got an updated logo and a new set of brand guidelines.


So simple, right? But I can imagine it’s possible that you’re still thinking, “Yeah, but don’t all these rules squander the potential creativity I could have with my brand’s visual identity?” To that I say, “Nope!”. I do my best work when I have constraints, like those that come with Brand Guidelines. It encourages me to creatively problem solve within those constraints, and gives me a challenge to focus on; not to mention, by focusing on what the rules are, it saves time and money in the design process. There’s always room for creativity: just think of your guidelines as an igniter for that creative spark.

Bottom line: Do you need Brand Guidelines?

YES! Even simple guidelines will save you time explaining the “look” you want for everything you need done for your business. They’ll also help you keep your image consistent no matter what you expand into. It’s like having a visual mission statement for your business!

Think your business is ready to kick off the new year with a consistent brand image? Click over here to learn more about how I can help with that. There you’ll also be able to sign up for my email list, and instantly receive my 7 tips for knowing if your business is ready for this step!

comments +

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

emily burton design instagram

FOLLOW ALONG @emily.burton.design

Follow along:


View Emily Burton Design LLC Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy