Branding is the visual glue that holds a company or organization together. Once you’ve developed the brand for a client or for your own business, you should tie all of the branding concepts together into a Brand Guidelines document.
In this tutorial I’ll take you through the steps of how I created a simple Brand Guidelines document for the resident Design and Illustration authors and regular community members, affectionately known as Team Awesome! I’ll also share some really useful tips for creating Brand Guidelines for your own projects.
You’ll need Adobe InDesign for this tutorial, which is suitable for beginner-to-intermediate users.
1. What Are Brand Guidelines and Why Do I Need Them?
Almost every company, even some that are relatively small in size, will have its own Brand Guidelines. This document shouldn’t be a last-minute afterthought. It’s a vital document for showing staff and contractors the correct way to apply your branding to anything they might need to—from smaller-scale things like stationery (business cards, letterheads, etc.), brochures and marketing materials to bigger interpretations of how the company is publicly represented, such as office design, advertising and website design.
Brand Guidelines are meant to be helpful—they should provide transparent guidance as to how you can use visual elements of your brand, such as the logo and colors, and how the brand can be interpreted across different media.
Brand Guidelines don’t have to be limited to visual elements either. Many companies use Brand Guidelines as a place to spell out their company ethos and to also set out rules for writing style (sometimes called ‘brand voice’), when writing from the company’s perspective.
Let’s take a look at the process of creating a Brand Guidelines document, for Team Awesome. Open up InDesign to follow along. You can either choose to drop in elements from the other tutorials in the Branding Team Awesome series, or use the document we create as a template for dropping in your own branded content.
Great! Let’s get started...
2. Create a New Document in InDesign
With InDesign opened up, go to File > New > Document.
In the New Document window, keep the Intent set to Print (even if you’re intending to share the final document digitally), and set the Number of Pages to 8, for now. You can add further pages to your own document later if you need to.
Uncheck Facing Pages, and from the Page Size menu select A4. Switch the Orientation to Landscape. I tend to find that a landscape format works better for Brand Guidelines—the format gives you lots of white space to play with and lots of room to fill with images and headings.
Under Margins, set the Top and Bottom to 15 mm and Left and Right to 13 mm.
Set the Bleed on all sides to 3 mm. Click OK.
With your new eight-page document created, we can start to think about separating the document into sections.
The first (Page 1) and last (Page 8) pages will form the front and back cover of your document. The cover is a great place to create a high-impact cover that uses some of the most prominent elements of the branding.
First we need to import the color swatches that we’re going to use on the cover. In a previous tutorial, Create a Branded Business Card for Team Awesome, I created an Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) file with two red swatches. If you followed the card tutorial, go to the Swatches panel in InDesign (Window > Swatches) and choose Load Swatches from the panel’s drop-down menu.
Navigate to the ASE file, ‘Team Awesome Brand Colors’, and click Open.
Alternatively, you can add the red swatches manually by choosing New Color Swatch... from the Swatches panel’s menu and creating two new CMYK swatches with the following names and values:
Team Awesome Red: C=10 M=81 Y=97 K=2
Team Awesome Dark Red: C=23 M=84 Y=100 K=15
You should also download and install the brand font, ready to use across the Guidelines. For the Team Awesome branding, we use Picadilly, which is free to download.
Install the font and return to your InDesign document.
Navigate to Page 1 of the document and take the Rectangle Tool (M) from the Tools panel. Drag across the whole of the page, right up to the bleed on all sides, and set the Fill Color to Team Awesome Red.
Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click the default Layer 1 name to open up the Layer Options. Rename the layer as Background.
Lock the layer, and choose New Layer... from the panel’s drop-down menu to create a second layer. Rename the layer as Content.
You can place the brand logo as a watermark across the top-left of the front cover.
To do this, bring up a vector version of the logo in Adobe Illustrator. Ungroup the vector elements if you need to, and select the simplest silhouette version of the logo. For the Team Awesome logo, that’s just the central white element.
In Illustrator go to Edit > Copy, and then return to InDesign.
Edit > Paste to paste the vector directly onto Page 1.
From the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) you can adjust the Fill Color of the vector to the darker red swatch, Team Awesome Dark Red.
Expand the logo, holding Shift to maintain the proportions, and position at the top-left of the page, allowing some of the design to extend past the edge of the page (the trim edge).
Take the Type Tool (T) and drag onto the page to create a long text frame. Type ‘Brand Guidelines’ and set the Font to Picadilly Regular, Size 40 pt, Tracking to 80 and Font Color to [Paper].
Select the text frame and Right-Click (Windows) or Control-Click (Mac OS) > Transform > Rotate 90 Degrees CCW. Position the text frame in the bottom-right corner of the page, resting against the margin.
Your front cover is finished, great work!
You can create a similar back cover by copying and pasting the background color (Unlock the Background layer first) and logo onto Page 8 of the document, and moving the logo to the bottom-right corner.
3. Structure Your Brand Guidelines Document
Organization and a clear structure are key to a good Brand Guidelines document. Think about how to lead the reader through the elements of your branding. Begin with the core elements of the branding—the logo is a good place to start. Then move outwards into covering the brand colors and other key brand assets, such as fonts and the brand mascot.
The back end of the document should focus on reinforcing the rules of using the brand assets, using clear examples of how to use and not to use the different brand elements.
The first thing to do before you dive into creating detailed pages of rules is to give some thought to the contents page of the document. This will be the first page the reader encounters, and will be a useful tool for navigating through the Brand Guidelines.
Navigate down to Page 2 of your document.
Ensure the Background layer is Locked and you are working on the Content layer.
From the left-hand ruler (View > Show Rulers) click and drag out a guide to X position 99 mm (which marks out a third of the page). Drag a second guide out to 198 mm, to divide the page into three equal parts.
Hop up to Page 1 of the document and Edit > Copy the text frame that reads ‘Brand Guidelines’.
Edit > Paste onto Page 2 and move into the bottom-left corner of the page, resting the frame against the margin.
Adjust the Font Color to Team Awesome Red and the text to read ‘Contents’.
Take the Type Tool (T) and create two new text frames, resting each in the top-right section of the page, with one in the central third of the page and the other lined up at the same vertical position, but in the right third of the page.
In the left-hand text frame type page numbers from 1 to 4, with two paragraph breaks between each number. Set the Font to Picadilly Bold, Size 20 pt, Align Right and Font Color to Team Awesome Red.
Drag the right side of the text frame to the left a little, so that it doesn’t sit exactly on the 198 mm guide.
In the right-hand text frame type up the titles of each section of the Guidelines. Here, I have:
Rules of Use
Set the Font to Picadilly Regular, Size 20 pt, Align Left, All Caps and Font Color to Team Awesome Red.
To keep the reader orientated in your document, you should add page numbers to the Guidelines.
Expand the Pages panel (Window > Pages) and double-click on the A-Master page icon at the top of the panel to bring up the master on screen.
Create a new small text frame using the Type Tool (T), and position it at the bottom-right of the page, just below the bottom margin.
Set your type cursor in the text frame, and then head up to the main menu at the top of the screen. Go to Type > Insert Special Character > Markers > Current Page Number.
Highlight the ‘A’ marker that appears and set the Font to Picadilly, Align Right and Color to Team Awesome Red.
You can also insert running headers to give your Guidelines document that extra professional touch. Create a new text frame and position at the top-right of the page. Type ‘Team Awesome: Brand Guidelines’.
Create a new CMYK Swatch by selecting New Color Swatch... from the Swatches panel:
Team Awesome Grey: C=36 M=28 Y=27 K=0
Apply this new grey swatch to the ‘Team Awesome’ text only, and set the rest in Team Awesome Red. Pull out ‘Team Awesome’ in a Bold Picadilly font.
Select the text frame and go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Reduce the Opacity to 60% and click OK.
You want this master to only be applied to the pages that need page numbers. At the moment, by default the A-Master is applied to all the pages in your document.
Click and drag the master page named [None] at the top of the Pages panel, and drop it onto the page icons for Pages 1, 2 and 8 in the bottom half of the panel below.
The A-Master is now applied to just pages 3–7.
When you go down to Page 3 of the document, you’ll notice that the page number reads as 3, when we really want it to read as 1, as it is the first page of actual content in the document.
To do this, select the Page 3 page icon in the Pages panel and select Numbering & Section Options... from the panel’s drop-down menu.
In the window that opens, check the bullet next to Start Page Numbering at: 1 and click OK. This creates a new section in the document, and starts a new section on Page 3, now listing it as Page 1. Your page numbers will also adapt to this new numbering system.
4. What to Include on Your Pages
Now you have your contents page structured and page numbers and running headers set up, you can start to develop your Brand Guidelines document in more detail.
Let’s walk through the steps of creating two pages of the document, Page 1, ‘The Logo’, and Page 4, ‘Rules of Use’. You can take the lessons demonstrated here and apply them to other pages in your document later. You can view the full Team Awesome Brand Guidelines document at the end of the tutorial.
Return to your contents page.
Drag your mouse across the top of the page to select just the two guides and Edit > Copy.
Open up the A-Master, and go to Edit > Paste in Place. Drag out a third guide, to X position 39 mm. The guides will now show up on all pages with the A-Master applied to them.
Head back to the contents page and select the text frame that reads ‘Contents’ from the bottom-left corner of the page. Edit > Copy.
Then move down to what is now Page 1 (the second ‘Page 1’ of the document, and previously Page 3) and choose Edit > Paste in Place. Adjust the text to read ‘The Logo’.
Unlock the Background layer and create a new tall rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M). Position on the left side of the page, resting the right edge against the 39 mm guide.
Set the Fill to Team Awesome Red.
Lock the Background layer and return to the Content layer. Adjust the Font Color of ‘The Logo’ to [Paper].
Use the guides as a grid for positioning your content on the rest of the page.
Move over to the right side of the page and create a new text frame. Set the Font to Picadilly Regular, Size 13 pt, Leading 20 pt, Tracking 80, and Font Color to Team Awesome Red.
Now you can start to type up your summary of the brand’s logo—what does it represent? Is there more than one version of the logo? This can be a basic summary; you can direct the reader to Page 4 to read up on instructions for using the logo on branded materials.
Use the remaining two thirds of the page to the left of the text to place a couple of images of your logo. If you have just one main version of the logo, just use that.
In this case, we use both a 2D (simple) and 3D (detailed) version of the Team Awesome logo, so I use the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) to create two image frames to File > Place images of each.
Try to keep this page as simple and impact as possible. This is your reader’s first point of contact with the branding, so it needs to make a memorable impression.
As we touched upon earlier, you can structure your Guidelines document so that you have more detailed explanations and rules set out later in the guidelines.
From ‘The Logo’ page you can direct readers to skip ahead to Page 4 of the document, which tells the reader how to actually go about using the logo, and demonstrate via some helpful examples.
Let’s put that page together now. Remaining on ‘The Logo’ page initially, drag your mouse across the page to select all the content and go to Edit > Copy.
Head down to Page 4 of the document (what was Page 6 originally). Go to Edit > Paste in Place. Delete the images in the center of the page so you just have the two text frames remaining.
Adjust the Font Color of ‘The Logo’ to Team Awesome Red. Adjust the text to read ‘Rules of Use: Logo’.
Highlight ‘Logo’ and set the Color to Team Awesome Grey.
Head over to the right side of the page and to the text frame sitting in the right third of the page. Delete the text, and enter a few paragraphs detailing how the logo should be used across branded materials.
Consider what colors and color combinations the logo should be rendered in. How flexible is the logo? Can it be placed only against plain backgrounds (not patterned), or even exclusively against clean, white backgrounds? A sometimes neglected, but really important, piece of advice is to instruct the reader to leave an adequate margin around a logo, so that it will stand out.
When you’ve finished your text, you should use the remaining space on the page to provide demonstration images, explaining your instructions in a visual format.
Here, for example, I’ve placed the logo and used the Rectangle Tool (M) and Stroke Tool (\) to demonstrate the margin rule.
Below that, I place a trio of logos demonstrating how the logo design might be applied across full-color, monochrome, and black-and-white documents.
Finally, at the bottom of the page I place a couple of examples of the logo set against plain and patterned backgrounds.
To insert a tick and cross, to demonstrate correct and incorrect usage, create a text frame, and adjust the Font to Wingdings.
Then open up the Glyphs panel (Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs) and select the relevant glyphs from the panel that opens.
This page, ‘Rules of Use’, can be busier than some of your first pages, as this is where you really want to get into the nitty-gritty detail of how the brand asset should be used correctly.
Great work! The logo pages are complete, and are looking stylish, legible and comprehensive. Read on to find out how you can develop your own Brand Guidelines, using the Team Awesome document as a model...
Conclusion: Developing Your Brand Guidelines
You can use the techniques and tips we applied to the pages in Section 4 of the tutorial, above, to develop your Brand Guidelines and expand the document into a full-length document.
Consider all the elements of your branding which need to be explained, and order them in terms of importance. For example, a logo is usually the first thing that comes to mind when somebody thinks of a given company; so you should place the logo page at the start of the document.
Make sure you explain everything clearly and always provide images to demonstrate directly how you would like the reader to apply your branding. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!
When you’ve put the finishing touches to your document, ask a friend (ideally who has little experience of or contact with your company) to review them. If they find anything unclear or confusing, you should look at presenting it in a clearer way. Brand Guidelines are usually used by designers and marketing staff, but they should also be clear enough for non-designers to understand.
Here is the Team Awesome Brand Guidelines document in full. You can use the structure and style of the document to help you set about organizing your own branding project. Have fun!
Good luck with creating your own Brand Guidelines! We always love seeing examples of readers’ work, so feel free to share some samples of your own Guidelines documents in the Comments below.