The Importance of a Brand Guideline

Written By:
Coty Walden
Wednesday, June 10, 2020

As a graphic designer for Underscore, I encounter dozens of brands weekly. Whether I am creating email templates, postcards, 8-panel mailers, digital ads or portals, an institution’s brand guideline is the first source I turn to.

These guidelines, or “rules” so-to-speak, give me a quick look into what makes your institution unique, from your voice to your font to your photography and more. But when there is not a clear vision in place, the success of your institution can be compromised.

If you are currently without a brand guideline or are wondering how you might be able to improve your positioning, then look no further. This blog will answer questions regarding what a brand guideline is, why it and its content is important, and the bones to help you get started on crafting or enhancing one. It will also include helpful tips for those in higher education, based on my personal experience while working for Underscore.

What is a brand guideline and why is it important?

A brand guideline is essentially an outline detailing all areas that make your brand what it is. From the message and voice you want to have to the visual elements that your consumer sees, a brand guideline is important because it helps create a consistent look and feel for your audience.

What do you want your consumers to think of when they hear your name? By utilizing an established brand guideline, you will not only be increasing the likelihood of becoming a recognizable and memorable name in your industry, but anyone working for your brand will also know how to treat it.

How do I build one or enhance my current one?

A brand guideline can be made up by defining the following: brand messaging, voice and design. Building or analyzing the quality of your current brand guideline can be easier done by breaking down each of the sections. Start at the beginning and work your way through the questions below to help get started.

Brand Messaging

Your brand’s message is defined by the answers to these questions:

·      Who is your audience?

·      What product/service do you provide?

·      What value do you bring?


Your brand’s voice is how your message is expressed through words via marketing material. Think about these questions when identifying your brand’s voice:

·      What is your personality?

·      What do you stand for?

·      What kind of experience do you give to your audience?

·      Is there a phrase that you can embody continuously in your message?

·      BONUS - This is where additional style guides can come in – use of punctuation, the way you use your name, your tone, etc.

Higher education tip: really analyze who you are speaking to – especially in terms of age group. High school students see the world differently than we do. How can you communicate to them so that they listen, understand, and are inspired? How can you stay relevant while also being timeless?


The design portion of your brand guideline is what distinguishes how your school is seen to your audience.It encompasses the following sub-categories: logo, color, typography,photography and graphic elements. Each category acts as building blocks for marketing your institution, and visually portrays your brand’s messaging and voice that you identified.

Higher education tip: As with your voice, visually your brand should resonate and stand out to the high school population. Think of trends your students are interested in and gravitate towards those.  


·      Define what your logo is made up of and its purpose. Is there a story that your logo tells?

·      What colors do you use in your logos? Beyond a colorful logo, it is wise to include both black and white versions so it can be placed on varying backgrounds.  

·      Are there any alternate styles (stacked,word mark, etc.) that your logo can be in?

·      What is the smallest size your logo can be before legibility is lost?  

·      How much clear space around the logo is necessary so that crowding does not happen?

·      Define ‘usage’ guidelines along with “do’s and don’ts,” including:

                - What are standard placement areas?

                - What are the acceptable backgrounds that it can be on?

                - Provide unacceptable examples for your logo including alternating colors, fonts, and stretching/compressing


·      Primary colors – usually 2 main colors that will be present in almost all designs

·      Secondary colors – colors that support your primaries – great for using on call outs or emphasis

·      Additional colors – sometimes it is helpful to provide colors that mix well with your primary and secondary colors but are used sparingly like for specific campaigns

·      If you have multiple audiences, creating color palettes for each audience is a next step up

·     Tip: It is wise to include at least one gray, black or neutral color to compliment and ground your other colors.  


·      Fonts are powerful – they help relay your messaging and tone

·      It is important to maintain a hierarchy with text because it helps guide the eyes to what you want them to see

·      Things to consider when creating hierarchy are weight and size of the text for the following: headers, sub headers, call outs, text, sub text, quotes and quote source  

·      Out of all the millions of fonts, not all are accessible or compliant on the web. Do research on your fonts and provide alternate fonts for when displayed on an email or browser that still aligns with your look.  

Higher education tip: It is easy to appear “outdated” through your usage of fonts. No teen is going to be drawn to a design that uses Times New Roman – they are likely to be pulled towards fonts that make your establishment feel modern, clean, unique, bold and relevant.


·      This section defines the use of photography in marketing material.

·      For example, things to note in this section include the importance of using high resolution pictures, how to handle filters on images,types of compositions and when to use them, as well tips such as watching out for awkward faces or positioning and high/low exposure.

Higher education tip: Identify when best to use academic shots, campus shots, detailed shots, and portraits

Additional Graphic Elements

·       Already created additional graphic elements give your brand the extra pop. It enhances your ability to be recognized, creates consistency, all while standing out from the crowd. These elements can be easily heightened or toned down.  

·      Additional graphic elements can include: lines,patterns, shapes, icons, gradients, texture


If you’d like to talk through your brand or have questions about how best to visually represent your institution, Underscore is here to help.

Contact Us

About the Author

The artist. From what started as just a hobby as a kid, graphic design has evolved naturally as a career for Coty. Whether she's designing mailers for institutions across the nation or creating promotional material for one of the largest fitness franchises in the world, Coty's been refining her creative skills with each project she's taken on. Nothing excites her more than to bring the client's brand to life through a visually stimulating piece.


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