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Is the style guide dying?

Ash Thompson — 7 June 2016


At some point in a creative’s career they will work with a brand that takes its logo seriously enough to have a style guide or alternatively named an “annoying document”. It is little sad calling this document “annoying”, mainly because these documents are created with the best intentions; not to mention in most cases, a large financial investment.

But due to their size and complexity most style guides eventually end up in the bottom drawer, hidden away from the designers and marketers to die a slow and faded death. Which quite frankly, is just silly when you consider how much time, effort and consideration goes into them. They really are worth their weight in gold as they help teams make decisions quickly and easily, but that gold is now hidden away, depreciating.

The main problem

So why does this happen? What makes it so hard for teams to keep referring to the style guide? Why do they avoid consulting it when starting a new project? There are a few plausible reasons that teams stop consulting the style guide. One is they may think they know it inside out, another is the guidelines may not be far reaching enough to have any relevance to a project. With all that said there is one other reason that is far more common amongst teams and that is well, it is easier not to use it.

Before you get mad at me for accusing every marketer and designer on the planet of being straight out lazy, take comfort in knowing that I am a designer too and I am drawing this conclusion based on my many years of experience. I have sat in teams and watched campaigns receive the tick of approval without so much as a glance toward the style guide and most importantly I have made this mistake too. Most teams abandon the style guide because it is really hard to stick to something that isn’t totally enforced. It takes discipline and sometimes people have moments of weakness, and that is ok, but not when it comes to a brand’s identity.

Hanging on to equity

Brand and marketing strategists work extremely hard to build equity, awareness and recall in consumers minds to help position their brand correctly and ultimately sell more of what they make. Now more than ever the marketplace is so crowded with brands that it is vital to build and hang on to every scrap of rapport that is earned. Not sticking to the style guide is like taking all that rapport and throwing it out just before you launch a campaign. When put as bluntly as that, it sounds crazy right? But creative teams do it all the time.

So how do businesses create a more user friendly style guide? How can they encourage buy in from their creative and marketing teams? A great place to start is to review the style guide with a critical eye, not just the constraints, but how the guide is presented. Does it actually make sense in its current form? I have read so many style guides which have small contradictions the whole way through, this makes it tough to take the guidelines seriously. I’ve also read guides that are beautifully designed but when you print them out they are 90 pages long, you aren’t going to flick through that in a hurry. Sometimes they are filled with jargon and overly bloated information about the brand, which is frustrating when you are just trying to double check your colours. To put it simply a style guide needs to be useable and the information inside it accessible.

Taking it a step further

With this in mind, brands are now taking their style guides not just one step further but many steps further by digitising them and adding them to platforms like Outfit to empower their teams and speed up their marketing production. By taking this step your style guide now becomes completely scalable and better yet, to use it your team doesn’t need to refer to it in its original state. All documents that are created in Outfit are constraints based templates, which means Outfit knows exactly how much clear space to leave around your logo, what font for a headline, and you can choose from pre approved images in the content library. In other words, your style guide now is alive and working without your team even knowing it.

Style Guide adoption won’t happen overnight and it is safe to say it won’t happen in a week if our track record is anything to go by, but if brands set the wheels in motion with tools like Outfit, before long for the team will be producing on brand material, faster and on a larger scale.


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