Why are style guides essential? What value do they bring to the company, and what should be in it? I will attempt to answer these questions below.
First off, let's look at why they are essential to have. There is the practical aspect which includes professional looking communiques that gives prospective stakeholders the impression that your company has a fine-tuned identity. Like people who you meet, corporate identities make an impression. Some people you meet and they never come back to your mind again, other people you meet make impressions that gives you a sense of subjective relate-ability. When those you engage with relate to your product or company it ensures retention, just like when you would like to meet a person again who has made a good impression.
A prime example of this is how IOS and Android fans tend to stick to their device of choice. Higher retention in your consumer base automatically helps ensure that there will always be a market for your product. Of course I'm not saying style guides will be all you need, a business's success is based on many factors, but having a style guide is a cornerstone that will hold up your company, at very least visually.
Then there is the financial aspect. Its nearly impossible to measure ROI KPI's because of the fact that you can not know each individual who interacts with your company, the best we can do on that level is focus on UX, because that is online and more traceable than real life interactions. So in essence the financial aspect can't precisely be measured, but, there are some advantages of style guides that do contribute in a positive way financially. First off your company could save when it comes to out sourcing creatives.
When you have great templates and your staff have been shown how to use it, you would be amazed at the great looking stuff they can produce. A worthwhile style guide should always include some templates from which users can just copy and paste of drag and drop. Weather its having assets in a digital library such as excel or having the assets an a shared repository, or even both, there are a lot of ways assets can be used or created. In anyway its also important to look not only a marketing directives, think the presentations created by your team, financial overviews, quarterly reviews and emails. The way in which these are presented affect how inclined someone is to pay attention.
When something is difficult to read its easy to loose attention. Thing that draws us to luxury items and to pretty things is the same thing that makes us engage with beautifully designed media. A diamond has very little intrinsic value as far as true value goes, but the business that surrounds it comes mainly from a thing we have with the ascetic beauty we see in it. Its absolutely undeniable, people have a tendency to want more of what they find visually pleasing and they are willing to spend their money on it.
Another aspect that is somewhat below the surface has to do with the personal experiences that your employees have. Professionals have a lot to contend with, although not everyone gets into the rat race, for the most part and as for long as commerce continue to exist and people have to partake in it to make a living, the rat race will be an inevitable aspect of a professional's career. Many people feel undervalued in their work life, maybe they have a bottom position or they have been doing something for a really long time, but since work life takes up so much of our time, it's natural that we start to carry it personally.
When your employees have tools to make awesome presentations and produce charts that others actually want to look at, they receive on some level, a sense of accomplishment because they get to experience someone paying attention to their work. Something that can be annoying to designers is when non-designers seem to be know it all's and think they can create better. Unfortunately, just like people who are good at tech can develop tools that automate their own functions or the functions of others inevitably removing those functions from the market, having a good style guide removes the need for designers and enables almost anyone in the company to create engaging content.
Things that should be in your style guide and why.
Style guides can be created at the same time your logo is created, or they can come after. Either way they will still build from the same foundation which is the logo. If you don't already have one or if you would like to know more about logos you can read about it here. Its good to know about them when you are developing your corporate identity because logos convey a lot of information about your company.
The first thing your style guide should contain is obviously your logo and the fonts you use. Even without a developed style guide these two things can be used to make assets that relates to your corporate id. Some fonts need permissions or have to be purchased, this is information that should always be in your style guide. Kerning measures ensures the readability of your text. Its also smart to keep notes like who designed the logo should you ever run into copyright issues.
The next building block has to do with color. Obviously you want to dress your company according to the style of the logo. Having a color scheme ensures that there are no "fashion" disasters, so to speak. Its important to have colors that work well together stylishly because image matters. Its also important that your style guide has the color codes so that the colors are always true to the style guide.
The last essential building block is the treatment of the logo. How the logo is placed in media can make it look good or really bad. This section should include thinks like padding or margins, its will also include the different logo lockups. How to use it on light vs dark backgrounds and how to use it in color or monochrome backgrounds. An extensive style guide would also have other assets in this section. For example how to treat text. A good style guide has additional graphics and these would be included in this section too.
With the criteria mentioned above just about any designer can create assets that feels like your identity. But within your style guide there can and should be sections for non designers. These sections are for the use of your employees. The most used would most likely be a area relating to print media. Letterheads, envelopes, business cards and power point presentation templates should be easy for the employee to access. This section should highlight all the ways in which your image can used in print media.
When you've covered all your print media, its time to look at digital media. Digital media includes your website, social channels and apps. This is where having a library comes in super handy. For a lot of items it can be handy to save snippets of code. Its also good to have icon sets and css style sheets saved in the same sport. This section should also have case instances such as when to use an image asset such as an icon or when to use code assets such as buttons. What size metrics should be applied to which device and where on what website something is placed. When this section of the style guide is properly developed it ensures that your Omni-Presence is smooth with a steam lined image that creates generates recognition across multiple platforms.
Weather your client visits your website, reads an email from you, uses or your app or follows you on social, they should always feel like they are interacting with the same identity.
Now you should have a great style guide that brands all external communications with your corporate identity. The next step is to curate your internal coms. The advantage of using style guides in your employees everyday lives, not only makes their work look and feel professional, the generated assets can be used in any other communications, for example if you want to share online some statistics from you finance department or if one of your teams have to collaborate with another team to present information. Important criteria for this section include graphs and charts.
If you would like a peek at some extensive style guides, here are a few that are quite well done: Swisscom Io, Calgary Chamber and Njord. You should now have a good grasp on Styleguides and the process behind creating, using and maintaining them.