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Mastering the art of brand guidelines (with examples)

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 08, 2024

Repetition is a powerful thing. From that earworm you can’t shake to orators repeating words so they stick, being exposed to something over and over makes it more memorable, for better or for worse. 

This principle also holds true for brands. Consistency is key if you want people to remember you. 

From colors to logos, images, and tone — by presenting your brand uniformly across all touchpoints, it not only becomes more recognizable but also gains familiarity and reliability among your audience. This consistency builds all-important trust and strengthens connections, paving the way for a loyal customer base. And the cornerstone to accomplishing this? A well-crafted set of brand guidelines.

What are brand guidelines?

The phrase ‘brand guidelines’ refers to a set of rules that define how a brand’s identity is represented.

From your logo and color scheme to the way your typography and images look, these guidelines keep everything consistent — whether it’s on a billboard, your website, or a social media post. This consistency doesn’t just make your brand look good. It helps build a strong connection with your audience, making your brand more recognizable and trusted.

Why do you need brand guidelines?

When something is reliable and unified, it builds trust and personality, two things that are the holy grail for any business wanting to grow its audience. Brand guidelines are like a cheat sheet telling everyone in the organization how to present the brand. 

Here’s why they are so useful:

  • Consistency across all platforms: Whether it’s your website, social media, or print materials, brand guidelines keep your brand instantly recognizable by maintaining a uniform appearance and feel.
  • Building brand recognition and trust: A consistent brand presentation helps build trust with your audience. Familiarity leads to a stronger connection and loyalty over time.
  • Streamlining content creation: With a set of rules in place, designers and marketers can quickly produce content that aligns with your brand’s identity, making the process more efficient and cohesive.
  • Maintaining brand integrity: Brand guidelines help protect the integrity of your brand by preventing off-brand usage that could dilute your brand’s identity and impact.
  • Facilitating brand evolution: As your brand grows and evolves, having established guidelines makes it easier to update and adapt your identity in a controlled and strategic way.
  • Enhancing market positioning: A well-defined brand, communicated consistently through all channels, strengthens your position in the market and makes your brand stand out among competitors.
  • Helping you get buy-in from stakeholders: When your brand feels cohesive and confident, it’s easier to understand. And if it’s easy to ‘get’ your mission, stakeholders are more likely to want to back it. 

Brand guidelines vs style guide: what does each one mean?

When it comes to brand identity, two terms often come up that are used interchangeably: brand guidelines and style guide. While they might seem similar, each serves a unique purpose.

Brand guidelines: This document covers all aspects of a brand’s identity, from visual elements like logos and color palettes to messaging and tone. It’s more overarching than a style guide and often includes the brand’s vision, mission statement, user personas, brand strategy, and so on. 

Style guide: A style guide can refer to a couple of things. Either a document focused on the visual representation of the brand (logos, fonts, imagery, color palettes, and so on). They tend to be used by external designers. Or, it refers to a document that sets out the house rules for written content, helping to guide the writers towards a consistent style. In either case, the style guide is typically a smaller and more limited document than the brand guidelines.

What are the key elements that make up brand guidelines?

Logo usage

This section provides detailed instructions on how to use the brand’s logo, including acceptable sizes, spacing around the logo to avoid clutter, and the dos and don’ts of logo manipulation. It may specify different logo variations for use in various contexts, such as a monochrome version for single-color applications or a simplified version for small sizes. 

Color palette

A crucial part of a brand’s visual identity, this element outlines the primary and secondary color schemes with specific color codes for consistency (e.g., HEX for web, CMYK for print, RGB for digital screens, and Pantone for merchandise). This section often includes guidance on color combinations and contrasts to maintain visual harmony and brand recognition across all media.


Detailed guidelines on the brand’s chosen typefaces, including primary and secondary fonts. This might cover where and how to use different fonts (e.g., headings, body text, captions), font weights, and styles, along with fallback options for web use. Typography guidelines ensure that text across brand materials is readable, accessible, and aligned with the brand’s personality.

Imagery style

This part dictates the style and tone of the photography, illustrations, and any other visual elements used by the brand. It can include examples of acceptable image compositions, themes, filters, and even emotional tones that images should convey. This consistency in imagery supports the brand’s storytelling and emotional connection with its audience.

Tone of Voice (TOV)

Beyond visual elements, the tone of voice guidelines articulate how the brand communicates its personality through written and spoken words. This includes the brand’s approach to language, level of formality, and even humor. It guides creators on how to write in a way that resonates with the target audience while staying true to the brand’s values.

Brand values and mission

A clear articulation of what the brand stands for, its mission, vision, and core values, guides all other elements of the brand guidelines. This foundational narrative ensures that every piece of content and design not only looks like part of the brand but feels like it, too, by embodying the brand’s ethos in every interaction.

Application examples

Practical examples of how to apply the brand guidelines across different mediums and materials can be incredibly helpful. This might include mock-ups of marketing materials, digital advertising, packaging, and website design. Seeing the guidelines in action helps ensure consistency and can serve as inspiration for creating new brand materials.

Editorial guidelines

For brands that produce significant amounts of content, a set of editorial guidelines might be included to cover voice, tone, grammar, and punctuation, ensuring all written materials reinforce the brand identity. This might extend to content structure, use of headers, and even preferred storytelling techniques.

How to create brand guidelines in 8 simple steps

Creating brand guidelines is a strategic process that ensures your brand’s identity is communicated consistently and effectively across all touchpoints. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting comprehensive brand guidelines:

1. Establish your brand’s core identity

  • Mission, vision, and values: Start with a clear statement of your brand’s mission (purpose), vision (future state), and values (principles). This influences every aspect of your brand guidelines, giving context to your visual and verbal identity.
  • Brand personality: Define the personality traits of your brand. Is it adventurous, sophisticated, playful, or trustworthy? This helps you make consistent branding decisions that resonate with your target audience.

2. Add logo guidelines

  • Usage: Give detailed instructions on how and where the logo can be used, including acceptable sizes, minimum dimensions for legibility, and required spacing around the logo to ensure clarity.
  • Variations and misuse: Show all approved variations of your logo (e.g., color, black and white, vertical, horizontal) and explicitly detail common misuse scenarios to avoid (e.g., distorting, recoloring, partially covering).

3. Define your color palette

  • Primary and secondary colors: Specify your brand’s primary and secondary colors with exact color specifications for digital (RGB, HEX) and print (CMYK, Pantone) uses. Explain the psychology of reasoning behind your color choices.
  • Usage guidelines: Give rules for how colors should be combined and in what contexts certain colors should be used to maintain visual harmony and brand recognition.

4. Define your typography rules

  • Font selection: Detail the primary and secondary typefaces your brand uses, including specific fonts for headings, body text, and any other text elements.
  • Hierarchy and usage: Outline rules for font sizes, line spacing, and text alignment to ensure readability and consistency across all branded materials.

5. Imagery and visual style

  • Photography style: Describe the style and tone of photography that aligns with your brand, including composition, subject matter, and color treatment. Include examples of ideal images.
  • Graphics and icons: If your brand uses custom graphics or icons, give guidelines for their design and application.

6. Voice and tone

  • Brand voice: Define the overall voice of your brand — this could range from professional and authoritative to casual and friendly. Give examples of how this voice is applied in different types of content.
  • Tone variations: Explain how the tone might shift depending on the context or platform (e.g., more formal in whitepapers vs. conversational on social media) while staying true to the brand voice.

7. Brand application examples

  • Real-world applications: Show how your brand elements come together in various applications, such as business cards, websites, packaging, and advertising materials. This helps stakeholders understand how to use the brand elements in practice.

8. Editorial guidelines

  • Writing style: If your brand produces a lot of written content, include guidelines on grammar, punctuation, and formatting. This ensures consistency in how your brand communicates across all written touchpoints.

9. Review and update process

  • Maintaining relevance: Acknowledge that your brand will evolve over time. Establish a process for regularly reviewing and updating your brand guidelines to ensure they remain relevant and reflective of your brand’s current state and future direction.

5 examples of brand guidelines

Here are some examples from brands big and small. 


NASA’s 1975 brand standards manual emphasizes meticulous use of its ‘worm’ logo, ensuring brand consistency across mediums, including on physical items, including various vehicles. It also outlines specific color palettes and typography, reflecting NASA’s commitment to precision and innovation. 

What to look for: how to use the brand’s iconic logo (including on aircraft), color guidelines, and typography guidelines for space center signage. 

2. Starbucks

Starbucks’ interactive brand guidelines emphasize warmth, community, and a commitment to sustainability. The guidelines detail the use of the Starbucks siren logo, the brand’s distinctive green color palette, typography, and imagery that reflects the brand’s focus on community and environmental responsibility.

What to look for: The specific applications of the Starbucks siren logo, including its placement and use across various materials. The iconic Starbucks green and the approach to imagery emphasize the brand’s warm, inviting atmosphere. Detailed information on the brand’s TOV. 

3. Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters’ brand guidelines showcase the company’s focus on youth, creativity, and an on-trend shopping experience. The guidelines are crafted to reflect the brand’s minimalist aesthetic, with a focus on typography, a cool and calming color palette, and imagery that highlights the coffee-making process and the cafe’s welcoming atmosphere.

What to look for: The emphasis on lifestyle, with aspirational shots centered around Californian youth culture. Playful and varied typography mirrors the brand’s free and laid-back approach; the use of Instagram-style filters references the brand’s core demographic and its values. 

4. I Love New York

I Love New York’s brand guidelines share the story, values, and mission behind the iconic logo. The guide sets out everything you need to know about bringing New York City to a global audience. 

What to look out for: Detailed information on the brand’s core audience, its values, as well as meticulous information on logo usage, typography, photography, and other style elements.

5. Walmart 

As one of North America’s biggest brands, Walmart’s style guidelines are especially comprehensive. The online guide sets out everything from tone of voice and logo usage to the brand’s history, values, and mission. 

What to look out for: Detailed information on how to use video content and an entire chapter dedicated to pricing.

Final thoughts

From global giants to artisan startups, effective brand guidelines share a common goal: to communicate a brand’s unique story, values, and personality consistently and coherently. This helps your business remain true to its essence, regardless of the medium or platform.

To get the most out of the exercise, use tools built for the job. Diagramming tools like Cacoo offer a visual platform to organize and present the complex elements of your brand’s identity. With drag-and-drop flowcharts, organizational charts, wireframing tools, and more, you can visually represent the relationships between different brand elements, making it easier to understand and apply them consistently. Whether you’re aligning your logo usage across various media or ensuring your UX is consistent, Cacoo keeps your brand’s identity clear, consistent, and impactful. Try it for free today! 



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