I was at a Concord Chamber of Commerce mixer this morning and the subject of company styles guides came up. I said that mature companies tend to have style guides while new and small companies usually don’t have one. A chamber member next to me agreed and said my statement matched his experience in several differently sized companies.
So what is a style guide and is having one important? A style guide is one or more documents that, most commonly, specify how company logos should look, what fonts, colors, and point sizes should be used for text, and the composition and placement of graphics in marketing and other documentation. Better style guides also specify the company’s decisions in areas outside of branding. Capitalization, word choice, grammar (should a series comma” be used), and page formatting are all areas in which there are some questions that have no right or wrong answer. For example, Apple Inc. chooses to prefix some of their products with a lower-case i (as in iPad) while other products are not prefixed (as in Mac Pro). Chapter 3 of their style book lists the correct name of each product so there’s no confusion.
Style guides can specify document choices such as do whether to have a page number on each page, where it should be located, whether to center it or align it against the left or right margin, whether to print the number by itself or prefix it with “Page”, and what font should be used. In the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter what the decisions are, but making the same decisions consistently–or referring to a style guide that specifies the answers–helps produce documents that have the same “look and feel”.
Style guides are fundamental to creating and establishing a company’s style that goes beyond their branding. When multiple people are writing and editing the company’s documentation or when one person cannot consistently make the same style choice (do I write “e-mail” or “email”?), then a style guide is invaluable as a reference. It’s an excellent tool to save time and effort as well. Having one reference source is a lot better than going through previously written documentation to see what choices were made before.If you care, share.