A style manual, or style guide, is a set of standards for the design of documents, website pages, signage, and any other form of other brand identifier. The reason for their existence is to ensure complete uniformity in style and formatting wherever the brand is used. They cover everything from how and where the logo is used to the brand colours and typography rules.
Read on for a closer look at the best design style guides around, to inspire you when you create your own (opens in new tab). And if you haven't yet created a logo to write your style guide about, then don't miss our post on logo design (opens in new tab).
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01. Uber (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Uber's online guidelines are a masterclass in how to craft a comprehensive design style guide. The rules are easy to navigate through and offer plenty by way of examples and explanations. The rules on illustration and colour are particularly interesting – did you realise that Uber uses blue for safety-related messaging?
02. IBM (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
IBM's style guide is just as thorough as you'd expect for a company that's built a reputation for embracing a culture led by design thinking (opens in new tab). The well presented online guide covers everything from typography to app icons and how the branding can be used in motion. This is what a modern design style guide looks like.
03. Apple Human Interface guidelines (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Apple's human interface rules are nothing if not comprehensive. Aimed at app designers who want their creations to integrate seamlessly with Apple's devices and operating systems, this online style guide covers everything you might possibly need to know – whether you're designing for macOS, iOS, watchOS or even tvOS.
04. Urban Outfitters (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
The average branch might look as though a bunch of squatters decided to hold a jumble sale in a derelict factory, but hipster bazaar Urban Outfitters takes its visual identity very seriously, as a quick flick through its brandbook will reveal. The 42-page guide covers everything from Urban Outfitters' history and philosophy through to logo usage, typography, photography methodology and guidelines on the tone of voice to be used in communications.
05. I Love New York (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Milton Glaser's I Love New York logo is a wonderfully simple and iconic piece of design, so you might not expect there to be a 50-page set of brand guidelines attached to it. However there's more to I Love New York than Milton Glaser's logo; that's just the most memorable aspect of a campaign launched in 1977 and refreshed in 2008.
The scrupulously detailed brand guidelines cover all the bases for a campaign that represents the whole state of New York and not just New York City. There's a mission statement and brand pyramid, consistency and typography guidelines, plus a whole load of thematic logo treatments and logo usage guidelines to follow.
06. NASA (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Graphics Standards Manual was created by Danne & Blackburn in 1974 when NASA changed from its original crest-based logo to the 'worm' logotype that's now so familiar. The manual was revived in 2015 thanks to a Kickstarter campaign to fund its reissue. Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth's glorious new 220-page version of the case-bound NASA document comes with 'static shielding' packaging and is available for purchase.
07. British Rail (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Certain members of the Creative Bloq team have spent hours poring over the British Rail corporate identity manual and it's easy to see why. Epic levels of obsessive behaviour abound in the guide, which dates back to 1965, and some of the pictograms are a delight. Want to own your own copy? You're in luck; after a successful Kickstarter campaign, designer Wallace Henning has created a high-specification recreation of the original manual that you can order now; find out more here (opens in new tab).
08. Channel 4 (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Channel 4's comprehensive style guide leaves no room for confusion on how its brand is used. The guide is 46 pages long, each of which is clean and clear, stating a single guideline per page, often accompanied by a graphic for visual reference. If that's not enough meticulous branding rules for you, there are also dedicated style guides for E4, Film4, More4 and more.
09. Skype (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
The Skype style guide is brilliant for many reasons – its cool illustrations being one of them. The communication network hasn't filled its guide with pages of industry jargon, it simply employs easy-to-understand explanations and graphics to get its point across.
10. Barbican (opens in new tab)
The Barbican theatre's identity "is not just a logo. It is a design scheme composed of a number of core elements that come together to create a distinctive look and feel that makes the Barbican brand instantly recognisable". Which is why this guide is so important. The bold and colourful PDF is as well put together as you'd expect from a leading arts company. The Barbican allows a degree of creative flexibility for designers tasked with using its identity, and takes you through exactly how to achieve that. Which is nice.
11. Firefox (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Mozilla has ditched its old style guide for Firefox and introduced a whole new design language, Photon, to help web designers create beautiful products for Firefox users. As well as useful guidelines and principles, the online Photon Design System guide includes reusable UI components, templates, and other resources for building consistent and recognisable products across all platforms.
12. Macmillan (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Cancer charity Macmillan's identity design guide covers for everything from signage to infographics, as well as tips on how to use the brand's familiar green colours and which photos are best used as the image silhouettes you'll find in the charity's marketing material. Unlike many of the style guides on this list, Macmillan offers explanations for many of its rules, to explain the thinking behind them and help fix them in readers' minds.