Consistency is a hallmark of professional marketing efforts and a key element in a powerful brand. A style guide will help you achieve consistency by providing guidelines on graphic identity, editorial preferences, and, if you want to go deeper, other standards unique to your school. (See list below.) Whenever a designer, copywriter, teacher, development staff member, or anyone else creates something for the school, if they adhere to the style guide, it will appear to come from the same place. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would recognize your school simply by the way something looks? Then know it’s yours alone by reading your distinctive brand messages? Answer: YES! Goal!!
What colors can you use in logos and other official school graphics? Can you separate the elements of the logo into stand-alone pieces? When do you use the shield? Can you use the mascot with the logo? How do you give directions to the school? Do you capitalize job titles? When you reference the school is it "school" or "School"? Is it seventh grade, grade 7, or 7th grade? Do you use serial commas?
These and many other questions—whatever is important to your school—can be cleared up early and easily with a style guide or two. (Larger institutions sometimes separate graphic identity style guides from editorial ones. Most schools we’ve worked with need only one.) You’ve got plenty of bigger fish to fry. Why tussle with this stuff all the time?
TOUGH TO CREATE, EASY TO USE
A style guide is difficult to create because it requires foresight, decision-making, and commitment, but it’s worth its weight in gold once completed. It tells both your internal and external communities that you have hard-and-fast rules about your graphic identity and editorial conventions, and that there are few exceptions.
NO BAD GUYS
A solid style guide makes decisions less personal. It’s not you saying, “I don’t like that color so don’t use it.” Instead it’s, “Fuchsia isn’t part of Leaf Academy’s style guide, so we can’t use it.” The Director of Marketing and Communications then needs only to enforce the style guide, not mediate disputes.
For an extra boost, make sure leadership is behind you and tells the community how important this is and how adhesion is not an option, but mandatory.
For graphic identity guidelines, remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) at first and try to include examples of what not to do. (Showing what not to do seems to sink in with users better than showing only what to do.)
DON’T FORGET THE WEB
You might want to include specific website rules, such as the maximum number of words on a page, positioning and size of the school logo, permitted RGB colors, standardized link formats, etc. For some of you, your web developer will already have many of these guidelines built into your template.
EDITORIAL NORTH STAR
For the truly picky, choosing a published editorial style guide as your default and declaring it as such may work well. Most choose between the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, but there are others. You might also want to pick a particular dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster.
WHAT TO INCLUDE
Your style guide can be super simple or in-depth. If it feels like a lot all at once, just start with the basics and keep adding to it as you can. The topics covered in style guides can include:
Graphic identity (school logo, seal, athletic logos, color palette, fonts, etc.)
Editorial guidelines, school terms, AP vs. Chicago,
Brand messages, tagline, elevator speech
Social media guidelines
Website style guide
Social media channels and administrators for each, official hashtags,
Names of buildings on campus
Templates (PowerPoint, Word, etc.)
[add your own here]
GUIDE THEM ALONG
Whatever format you choose and however simple or detailed your style guide is, by creating one, you will be giving your community a tool they need to do what you want them to do: adhere to the school’s approved graphic identity and editorial style, advance the school’s brand messages, and, ultimately, boost the school’s brand internally and externally.
Consider a Brand Camp like Ridley College. Make it fun to make it memorable.
WHERE IT LIVES
We recommend your style guide lives as a PDF as well as on your website. Whether this is available to the public is up to you.
Check out these style guides from your peers, and then get going on your own. Your life will be so much easier. Really.