How to Create Brand Guidelines for Your Interior Design Firm
As we noted in an earlier post on the Design Dash blog, “preserving your brand’s identity while your business grows is vital.” A consistent brand identity makes your business instantly recognizable to everyone who interacts with your work. From employees to partners and from existing customers to new clients, your brand personality should always shine through. However, when companies grow their staff, open new locations, add departments or expand their offerings, a brand refresh might be necessary. Unfortunately, refreshing the brand without confusing existing clients can be difficult. One challenge growing companies often face when updating their business model is maintaining a strong brand identity throughout the expansion. Business owners often wonder how to keep current clients while simultaneously attracting prospective customers and potential investors in an emerging target market. In this post, we explain how to create brand guidelines for your growing design firm. By thinking about the future when building brand guidelines, you can ensure your brand easily adapts when the next amazing opportunity presents itself.
Terms to Know When Building a Successful Brand for Future Growth
#1 Brand Assets
Your company’s brand assets include all the brand elements used to describe the brand to employees, current clients, future customers and potential hires. Digital assets, printed materials and other branded content can be considered brand assets.
These include visual elements — like your company logo, brand colors, fonts, icons and imagery — that contribute to the brand image. Photographs taken of your team, studio, projects and company events can be considered visual assets too.
Your brand’s assets also include linguistic elements — like slogans, adages and quotes — that convey the brand’s personality. Written content — e.g. blog posts, short-form videos, social media posts and newsletters — might also count.
Together, these elements make your own brand unique and identifiable. Used across everything from internal communications to social media, these assets help ensure brand consistency.
#2 Brand Positioning
Brand positioning communicates your company’s value proposition. It contextualizes your company and its offerings within the larger market — especially within your specific niche. Your website, social media presence and other ways potential consumers engage with your brand online and in person all help with brand positioning.
Samuel Thimothy explains in an article for Forbes. He writes that brand positioning “is the process of getting your brand out there and establishing it as something worth thinking about.” Put simply, brand positioning explains why your brand exists and helps build brand awareness.
It explains to clients what you offer, defines who your product or service is geared towards and sets you apart from competing brands. Thimothy writes that brand positioning “creates clarity around who you serve…[and] helps you justify your pricing strategy” to your target audience. It helps ensure your target customers perceive your brand as you want them to.
#3 Brand Identity
Brand identity is the amalgamation of a brand’s assets, values, vision, tone and voice. In short, brand identity is how a brand presents itself. The terms “brand identity” and “brand assets” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Quoting VHS Design Co. Creative Director Rachel Hardin in an article for Forbes, Kimberly A. Whitler explains. Hardin notes that she thinks of brand identity “‘as a combination of vision, mission and your values all put together into a pretty package.'” That package “‘creates this unique identity'” you hope clients will understand and appreciate exactly as you intended.
#4 Brand Story
Your company’s brand identity is not the same as its “brand story,” but the two do converge. Your “brand story” is a curated narrative surrounding your company’s creation, evolution and vision for the future. It often includes an introduction to your company’s founders and a brief description of how your company got started. It points to the problem your company was founded to solve and defines who the company aims to serve.
A company’s brand story often mentions key milestones, describes brand values with a mission statement and outlines the brand vision. A great brand story connects with clients on an emotional level. It breeds trust and inspires brand loyalty while setting your company apart from others in the industry. This is particularly important when planning for future growth.
#5 Brand Voice and Tone
A brand’s tone and voice are part of its unique brand identity. Voice and tone refer to the style, attitude and personality of a company’s written and spoken communications. Your company’s tone and voice should be consistent across all forms of communication — both internal and external.
This includes web content, company announcements, social media posts, blog posts, newsletters, videos, client meetings and emails. It is especially important that employees embody the brand voice and tone when describing their company’s products or services to prospective clients. The ways in which team members talk about the brand to each other should also reflect the brand’s voice.
How Should You Describe Brand Tone and Voice?
You should include a description of voice and tone in your brand guidelines. This resource from Canva recommends providing team members with “exact examples of messaging, words to use, and projects that encapsulate your brand perfectly.”
When developing these guidelines, be sure to outline “language dos and don’ts, formatting and style preferences.” Provide a list of “adjectives that explain who your brand is and who your brand is not.”
For example, a prop tech company targeting first-time home buyers might describe their brand’s voice as educational and informative yet informal and conversational. That company might warn employees against using industry jargon or legal terms when writing blog posts and other content aimed at their target audience.
Instead, they might encourage team members to use descriptive terms that are easier to understand at first blush. For instance, they might replace “caveat emptor” with “buyer beware” or “earnest money” with “good faith deposit.”
#6 Brand Style Guide, Brand Guide or Brand Guidelines
There are subtle differences between the two, but many people use the terms “brand guide” and “brand style guide” interchangeably. Some define a brand style guide as an amalgamation of visual elements.
Others — like this resource from Master Class — would say that “a style guide focuses on writing and editing copy” or similar linguistic elements. Within the context of this blog post, a brand guide or style guide includes information about your brand’s assets, perspective, values and approach.
Basically, a brand style guide describes your brand’s identity to employees, independent contractors and investors. This resource from computer software company Adobe explains that your company’s brand style guide “ensures your work is consistent with brand identity guidelines.” Put simply, it is “the rule book for everything you create, from what fonts to use to how logo treatments work with different colors.”
Employees should consult your company’s brand style guide whenever they engage with people outside the company or develop fresh brand assets. They should consult the guide when they create new graphics, design a social media post, respond to commenters, draft marketing campaigns, and more.
From voice and tone to assets and identity, this set of standards encapsulates nearly all of the concepts listed above. Disseminating a clear brand style guide to all partners and employees is absolutely key to implementing a successful brand strategy.
How to Build a Brand Guide that Enables Growth
- To create a brand style guide that doesn’t require a full rewrite every time your company adds a new service, location or department.
- To lay a solid foundation that allows your company to expand without fear of damaging its brand or alienating current clients.
- To establish a clear, recognizable visual style and tone of voice.
- To create content that consistently resonates with your target audience and makes sense for your brand.
- Knowing when to update the brand.
- Deciding whether to refresh or rebrand.
- Avoiding confusion amongst current or returning clients during and after a rebranding or brand refresh.
- Maintaining a strong brand identity throughout expansion and other periods of change.
Our Tips for Creating a Recognizable Yet Flexible Brand Guide
Gather Existing Materials and Audit for Consistency
Maybe you have never assembled or disseminated explicit brand guidelines for your business. Still, you probably have some visual assets, written content and other elements that communicate your brand’s personality. You might have already defined the brand’s mission, vision, tone, voice and target audience.
Gather all of these elements together and audit for consistency. Be prepared to tweak those that look, sound or feel misaligned with how you want the brand perceived by current and future clients.
Keep Current and Past Color Associations in Mind
First impressions matter, and your brand’s visual identity is what creates most first impressions of your company. Many clients will encounter the brand’s visual assets — like your company’s website or social media channels — first. Picking the right color palette is vital to brand recognition, association and positioning.
Think about how customers or clients might perceive the brand when choosing primary and secondary color palettes. This resource from Canva notes that each color palette will “evoke certain emotions in your audience.” Some will be positive while others will be negative and some will be memorable while others will be easily forgotten.
According to the Canva guide, “bold tones such as red and orange are striking…and associated with dynamic, high-energy brands.” In the United States, “blue is known as the color with the widest, universal appeal, exuding a feel of reliability, loyalty, and trustworthiness.”
Consult color psychology like the Canva guide suggests, but pay attention to regional, generational and other demographic differences in how colors are perceived. Keep in mind that some color associations are fairly universal. However, different cultures often assign different meanings to colors. Consider how your target audience might perceive your brand’s color palette before committing.
Avoid Trends When Defining the Brand’s Visual and Linguistic Style
Think about the future when assembling your brand guidelines. Opt for classic fonts and color schemes that will not fall out of fashion quickly. Trendy color pairings, funky typefaces and kitschy iconography might appear dated and could even misalign with your brand’s goals for the future.
Leaning too far into a trend could handcuff your brand to the current moment, making it inflexible if that moment passes. When consumer preferences shift a few short months or years later, your brand could be abandoned.
Reject Jargony, Oversaturated Terminology When Drafting the Tone and Voice Section of Your Company’s Brand Guidelines
Similarly, try to avoid oversaturated or trendy terminology when drafting the tone and voice part of your company’s brand guidelines. Pay particular attention to how certain terms are used today as opposed to how they were used in the past. If you want your brand to endure, opt for a more timeless way of talking about your services, style and approach.
Those who hope to connect with a particular generation might consider using slang sparsely and in a cheeky or mildly irreverent manner. Don’t use words that have either lost all meaning or have undertaken a poor — i.e. tacky, disrespectful or downright offensive — connotation in today’s culture.
For example, you might replace words like “bougie” or “luxe” with “elegant” or “high-end.” Avoid confusing or turning off prospective clients by rejecting terms that require extensive explanation or lack a consistent, widely accepted definition.
Research Consumers and Check Out the Competition
This tip is an obvious one, but still worth mentioning. Take a look at brand assets and marketing materials from successful competitors in your space.
What do their visual assets look like? How do their employees and ambassadors talk about the brand?
Consider how their customers and target audiences engage with those brands. Match or exceed the quality of what successful competitors produce.
Distinguish Your Brand From Others in the Industry
Distinguishing your brand from others in the industry is vital to creating a successful brand. An enduring brand not only attracts clients today, but which withstands and thrives during periods of change.
To distinguish your brand, develop a signature system or service and market that approach to clients. Even if it’s just a slightly different process than the industry standard, underscoring your firm’s approach can help attract the right clients.
For example, Laura U Design Collective starts every project with an initial consultation and ends with a final reveal. Of course, this is what dozens of other interior design firms do too. What sets LUDC’s process apart is its client-first approach, multidisciplinary in-house team and incredible brand partnerships.
Streamlining certain elements of the project to leave space and time for creativity and personalization in others also sets LUDC apart. In a 2018 interview with Voyage Houston, LUDC Founder Laura Umansky described her tailored “Process of Design.” She emphasized that some standardization is needed to ensure every client receives individualized, white-glove service curated specifically for their project.
To this point, we recommend leaning into what makes your company different. Use those differences — no matter how slight — to craft a signature brand. Even if other firms adopt similar processes in the future, your company could still market itself as a “pioneer,” “early adopter” or “thought leader.”
Bonus Tip for Crafting Brand Guidelines
Create quality content that identifies and reinforces these differences while clarifying and distinguishing your brand’s voice. As Nicole Munoz writes in this article for Forbes, “most companies have the design elements of their brands on target.” However, the voices that communicate these brands “are quite saturated.” Few truly set themselves apart.
Munoz notes that “there’s so much noise in the world today…[and] a significant lack of high-quality marketing writers who can graft, draft and create an impressive voice for a company.” Developing your brand voice is essential, but a writer who understands and speaks naturally in that voice is difficult.
Still, finding a writer who can embody that voice across blog posts, social media posts, project write-ups and newsletters is crucial.
Create a One-Page Brand Guide Summary
Your brand guidelines should explain your company’s brand strategy to employees in minute detail. They should identify audience personas, outline your values, define your tone and explain how to interact with potential customers. Visual elements alone can occupy several pages.
Given this, exhaustive brand guides that include every touchpoint, template, typeface, email signature and logo variation can be incredibly long. Sure, it’s important that full-time employees and major partners have access to your brand guidelines. However, it isn’t always expedient — nor appropriate — to hand contractors or part-time employees a full brand guide.
This is why we recommend designing a one-page reference sheet — kind of like a tear sheet — when creating your brand guide. Include a brief overview of key visual and linguistic elements — like fonts, color palettes, keywords and taglines. Add a short description of the brand’s voice and/or approach too.
Let us know if you need help creating a brand kit, brand manual or other set of guidelines. We are always looking for new ways to support members of the Design Dash community and would be happy to put together a few brand guidelines templates.
Still Have Questions About Creating Brand Style Guides?
Is your interior design firm growing? It might be time to create guidelines that team members can use to represent your brand consistently across channels.
If you still have questions about creating brand guidelines, join our private Facebook group to continue the conversation.