Style Guide Standardization

Establishing Style Guide Guidelines: How Strict is Too Strict?

There’’s no denying the value of establishing standardization for a well-designed consumer product style guide. It’’s essential to maintaining the property’’s visual aesthetic across all consumer products in every category. Without guidelines for standardization, each licensee would be free to develop their licensed products as they choose, with no regard for how their products might align visually with those of other licensees at retail. This will surely lead to a lack of cohesiveness, little or no consumer recognition and eventual failure in the marketplace.

But, how strict is too strict? The trend over the past few years has clearly been shifting from developing style guides that institute rigid guidelines for licensees to follow, with clear examples of dos and don’’ts, to style guides that provide a common visual thread as an overarching creative strategy for the property that can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Personally, I’’m a proponent of the new trend. And here’’s why:

Licensees know their respective categories and their target audiences. They know what appeals to the retailer and what connects with consumers. If the licensing program style guide is too rigid with its standardization, it won’’t afford licensee partners the flexibility needed to properly engage their core consumers in a way that conveys their products’’ unique benefits and features. If they’’re forced to use design elements exactly as they’’re provided in the style guide, then every product in the marketplace bearing that license will be leveraging the same imagery in exactly the same way. The result? Visual staleness. It will appear that every licensee simply “slapped” the property’’s brand identity and a key image on the product, without attempting to infuse their own creative sensibilities or add a clever twist indicating to consumers that the licensed property and consumer product brand are a great fit.

I also feel that a style guide should avoid the inherently negative vibe that comes from guidelines that tell licensees what they can’t or shouldn’t do. Most licensees today understand that they can’t stretch or distort the property logo or work with colors outside of the specified palette. A “Dos and Don’ts” section within a style guide does more to stifle creativity than to encourage it. And it can be perceived as somewhat condescending. The focus should instead be on what licensees CAN do as they create well-conceived, dedicated consumer products from all of the wonderful artwork contained within the style guide. Show them through a broad range of product applications the versatility that can be achieved from the licensing program’s design elements, while still remaining true to the established visual aesthetic.

A common visual thread establishes visual consistency

So, how can property owners ensure visual consistency in the marketplace if licensees are free to interpret design elements in their own way? That’’s where the property’’s core visual assets come into play – a distinctive color palette, a limited selection of font families, iconographic elements, a unique illustration style, editorial text that expresses the tone and personality of the property. All of these components come together to establish that common visual thread that, when utilized properly, ensure visual cohesiveness across all categories.


  • What’’s your take on how strict a licensing program style guide should be? Should it be rigidly standardized, or presented to licensee partners as more of a creative strategy that’’s open for interpretation?
  • Which licensed properties are currently leveraging an overarching creative strategy to their advantage successfully? Which would benefit from the more rigid approach?

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