Whatever your company size, you need a house style guide. Here, we take a look at why. And set out the essential tips to ensure you create a powerful and practical document.
What is a house style and why do I need one?
Your house style defines who you are as a brand and fulfils several important jobs.
First, a clear house style helps to explain to customers who you are. Customers are more likely to buy from brands they know.
Second, it is an important way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Your house style will influence your customers’ perception of your brand, products and services – ultimately, affecting their interaction with your brand and their buying decisions.
Third, your brand image helps customers recognise your brand communications – and (hopefully) to prioritise them. Consistency increases trust – and, in turn, encourages loyalty.
How do I create a house style?
Your house style will consist of a number of different elements:
• Your brand values.
• Design standards – the look and feel you want to create.
• Your company logo – its variations, applications, and rules of use.
• Corporate colour palettes – three to five key corporate colours and how and when to use them.
• Typography – font families and how and when to use them, e.g. how to pair them, preferred sizes, line spacing, kerning, etc.
• Layout – visual hierarchies, and any rules about the use of white space.
• Editorial style guide – tone of voice, grammar conventions, etc.
• Photographic guides – rules about filters, preferred colour palettes, layering, etc.
These elements combine to create a unique style which can then be applied across all your marketing and brand communications in a consistent way.
How do I communicate and enforce my house style?
A style guide will play a vital role in communicating your house style – the first step towards ensuring your brand is presented in a clear and consistent way.
Creating a clear guide to your house style is good practice for both in-house designers and agencies and freelancers.
For designers, delivering a house style guide alongside major design or redesign work demonstrates your professionalism to your clients. It helps them by ensuing they have some rules about how to use your work moving forward.
For in-house teams, your house style guide will be useful when briefing a new agency or freelancer about a new creative project. It should also be distributed internally to ensure consistency across different departments’ projects and communications.
The best way to enforce your house style is to make it easy to apply in the first place. Make your house style guide straightforward, accessible and easy to apply.
Thereafter, you have to rely on careful monitoring. Follow up on non-compliance in a positive way and with a learning mentality.
The dos and don’ts of creating a house style guide
The dos and don’ts of a house style guide are quite simple: Don’t preach. And do make it easy to use.
In terms of the style of your house style guide, it is part of your brand communications – and, therefore, should reflect your brand values and style itself. It should walk its own talk.
At a minimum, your style guide needs to include an explanation of each of the eight elements of a house style detailed above. Include visual examples wherever possible.
Keep the guide as simple as you can. You don’t want to bombard users with too much information. Anything that confuses your readers or stifles their creativity will hamper acceptance, adoption, and application.
In addition to the core eight elements, you should also include a “things to avoid” section which lists any absolute no-no’s in terms of your brand communications. It is also helpful to include a FAQs section that addresses common questions about your house style and its application.
If you have a brand font, supply it. Provide links to all other essential files, e.g. logos, font libraries, photo libraries, etc.
A final section should include contact details for the internal and/or agency contacts to whom users can escalate house style queries or design requests.
In this way, you can establish a clear and consistent framework that enables the coherent projection of your brand, its values and its voice by all your staff and creative partners – and, thereby, across all your documents, marketing, and communications.