My Style Guide Confession

So, I have a confession to make.

As a young designer—only a few years into my bright, shiny career—I moved to Washington, D.C., to make my way in the big city.

It was there that I took a job as the sole designer at the American Nurses Association.

And that was when I was handed my first-ever style guide.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Our Graphic Standards Manual (a.k.a., style guide),” my boss said.

The what?

Indignant, I thought, “I am a designer! My job was to create!

(Imagine me using a grandiose hand gesture to add artistic flourish to the word “create” because that was basically my attitude.)

I was certain their “manual” would stifle my creativity (not to mention be quite a drag.)

I shoved it into my desk drawer and blazed my own design trail.

And no one stopped me.

It was ugly.

Not that the designs I created were ugly (although I will admit that I sometimes cringe when I pull out some of my work from “the early years.”)

The truth is, my work conveyed no visual consistency or brand recognition (beyond the organization’s logo).

A style guide, is your visual brand bible. It’s your go-to guide that keeps you on course whenever you pull together new marketing materials.

It can be as simple as a one-sheet list that organizes your brand’s colors and typefaces, and how your logo should be used.

Or, it can be a complex, multi-page, bound document that details every aspect of your visual brand’s representation, including the proper layout of print pieces, the tone of your copy, and how much white space should be around your logo.

Your style guide takes the guess work out of pulling together your marketing pieces. It keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to a blank page.

You can share it with vendors to ensure your brand’s colors are the exact shade of teal and gold you and your designer chose when you designed your visual identity.

And if you have multiple employees, a virtual assistant or a new designer working on your marketing projects, your style guide can be used in-house to keep everyone on the same page.

It took me a couple of years before I finally learned the beauty of having a style guide.

In fact, by the time I moved to Louisville to work for a local ad agency, I become dependent on companies’ style guides in my work.

One of the agency’s clients was a large, international account that was undergoing a complete rebrand. Every designer assigned to the account chomped at the bit to get our hands on the company’s 1-inch thick “Graphic Standards Manual.”

We all knew how much easier it was going to make our lives.

This time, when I was handed the manual, I certainly did not shove in a drawer.

In fact, it remained on my desk and at my fingertips for as long as I continued to work there.

Have you created a style guide for your brand?

Do your designers, VA’s and website gurus have the tools to maintain your brand’s visual footprint

Consistency builds trust and recognition, as well as reinforces your professionalism and message.

If you are ready for your brand to tell a visual story that sticks, contact me for a free virtual coffee date.


  1. Michelle says

    Hey, Susan! Many of my clients have found theirs very helpful when pulling together marketing materials. The time you save not having to recreate the wheel with every project is huge. I’m happy to chat with you about all of this whenever you set up our Get Acquainted Call.

    Have a great weekend!

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