Design style guides: Why you need one and how to make one

Whether you’re in the initial stages of building your brand or you’re well established and undertaking an overhaul, a design style guide is well worth considering.

Although it’s a non-trivial outlay in terms of both time and money, the headaches and expenses a design style guide can save you later on (starting pretty soon, actually) are tremendous. And beyond providing a template for consistent visual representation across the various media in which your branding will appear, creating a style guide will force you to make conscious decisions about exactly how every part of your company identity looks in every context—and why it looks that way.

A style is more than your logo, Check out this Stasi Museum style guide for seat cushions. © Anagoria 2012 (CC BY 3.0)Why go to the trouble of doing all of this? Because chances are, your brand identity is going to be handled by different people at different times. In addition to good file management and annotation, having a single comprehensive guide will make it much more likely that your website, social media profiles, print materials,

Typesetting matters

Typesetting and layout aren’t just important to how a document looks. They can also be vital to how easy it is to read. Content creators now have many options for handling these things themselves—everything from default themes in MS Word and Pages all the way up to TeX if you’re in a scientific field. But at Talk Science to Me, we still get a fair amount of work doing typesetting and layout, so I thought it would be worth explaining what you’re really paying for when you hire someone for these services, and what you can reasonably expect to get for your money.

A hand-lettered Latin Bible from 1407. Unsurprisingly, aspiring Bible owners were not encouraged to do their own calligraphy. Adrian Pingstone, 2005 (Public Domain)First of all, there’s a lot more to typography than laughing at Comic Sans and hating Papyrus. And while you probably do have some preferences of your own, as Seth Godin points out, “Typography in your work isn’t for you.” It’s for

Peeking in the designer’s toolbox

Mari’s and Jeff’s studios probably don’t look like this. Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae - Alchemist's Laboratory, by Hans Vredeman de Vries (Public Domain)I am amazed by what our designers can do. I copy-edit a document and send it to Talk Science to Me designers Mari Chijiiwa or Jeff Werner as a Word file, just blocks of black and white text for pages on end. Then they work their alchemical magic and return it as a beautiful PDF file, with colours, images, graphics, pull quotes and stylized headings.

Until recently, I’ve only had a vague idea of what Mari and Jeff actually do, but back in July I attended a two-day InDesign workshop through the SFU Publishing Workshops. The workshop was excellent, and I learned a lot of technical skills, but most valuable—and something I hadn’t expected—was the new appreciation I now have for my team members’ tools.

I’ve always considered the Adobe Creative Suite to be someone else’s tools: valuable and powerful, but not mine to concern myself with. At

Coordinating cooks: Working with live designs

The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review is a massive report, created every four years, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, one of Talk Science to Me’s oldest clients. We were asked to copy-edit, design and proofread this epic masterpiece, weighing in at 365 pages. The design portion of the project, with its more than 400 figures, tables and images, was mine.

State of Sustainability Initiatives Review 2014 cover © International Institute for Sustainable Development 2014The SSI report, which evaluates voluntary sustainability initiatives in 10 major agricultural crops, is a massive undertaking of research and writing, and my task was to honour the content and create a logical, readable, accessible—i.e., well-designed—version for our client’s readers, which include experts in the field, laypeople and the media.

The central problem in the design process, which had to be completed—including working with the proofreader—in about a month, originated from a seemingly non-design-related question: who was providing content, and when were they delivering it?

Solve that problem well, and the report would be better designed for it.