Design 101 | A Cheat Sheet That Will Keep You Honest

brand strategy includes choosing a typefaces and color palette for your business

What if I told you that all the previous posts in the Design 101 series could make you money? They can, but only if you apply the idea that’s presented in this post.

Don’t Go Changin’

You want to sell, correct? Whether you’re selling services, products, or your charming personality, you want to sell. And people want to buy from you. Let me repeat: people want to buy from you. But who are you?

Your company, your brand, has standards of behavior. You treat your customers fairly, you’re responsive, you innovate. If you’re doing it right, your marketing materials reflect your company’s standards of behavior.

One of the most important actions you can take now is to be sure that your marketing is consistent over time. Because once your customer knows who you are, you build trust by presenting a cohesive brand every time your customer interacts with you: now, next month and next year.

Take it Easy

Presenting a consistent brand over time builds your customers’ comfort level. There’s an even better reason to be consistent: it’s easier! You save time if you don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time you put together a marketing piece. If the decisions about color, typefaces and overall style have been determined, all you have to do is put together the information in the established format.

Elements of (Graphic) Style

A confession: I have a wide variety of clients. They range from a magazine devoted to whisky to a Catholic diocese – and everything in between. As you can imagine, the graphic style for each client is quite different. I switch gears multiple times a day, going from working on marketing for a one-person business to a large academic institution, and on and on.

Each client has a particular style. Over time, I implement their style in everything I do for them. If you pick up a piece I designed for a client three years ago, it will look similar to something I designed last week. You’ll be able to tell both marketing pieces came from the same organization.

How do I do that?

The Cheat Sheet

It’s easy, really. You make decisions once, up front, about your organization’s graphic style, and then… (drum roll, please)… you write them down. You write down your official typefaces, your colors (both the web and print versions), paper stocks you prefer, the measurements of the content area in your web site, what can and cannot be done with your logo. Write down every detail, and keep it in a file where you can easily access it.

It’s called a Graphic Style Guide if you want to be precise, but I like to think of it as a cheat sheet. You can use a cheat sheet like this for your business, too. Keep track of your “official” colors, typefaces, and more, and you’ll find that your marketing materials will be faster and easier to create, and more effective, too. You’ll foster comfort among your customers, because over time your company will present itself consistently. And your business will grow, because your audience will trust your company.

What do you do to build trust? Have you ever thought about how graphics can build trust? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Design 101

This is the last in a series of ten lessons called “Design 101.” Thanks for reading!

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wd-15-3D-transPamela Wilson here. If you enjoyed this article, why not get the free Weekend Digest newsletter? Every other Saturday, you’ll receive one email that’s chock-full of information about the intersection of business, branding, design, and marketing. Join us.


  1. says

    Mmm that’s a great idea, thank you – never occurred to me to do, I didn’t think people would notice if I changed my font a bit…

    I do have a slight dilemma though. A lot of males have mentioned they don’t like the pink on my website and feel my site doesn’t welcome them. So I was planning on very subtly changing the pink to a slightly more purple shade (keeping logo and font untouched).

    Will I get away with it as refresh of image or am I committing a major design/ branding error?

    • says

      Hi Rachel,

      What you propose is a branding tweak, not a major overhaul. If you’re getting feedback that says you might be alienating a big chunk of your potential audience, then it’s definitely time to make a change.

      I say go for it, and then write down the new colors so that two years from now when you need them, you’ll have them.

      • says

        Thanks Pamela, that’s really helpful to know – I will now experiment and see if I can de-pinkify my website a bit. Just got to be careful not to make it too purple!

        • says

          Rachel, pinks sit across from greens on the color wheel, so you could always pump up the various green tones, too. That will help you avoid going over the edge with purple.

    • says

      Iain, you’re welcome! Check back in a week or so: I am in the process of assembling the Design 101 lessons into an e-book that I’ll make available free to everyone who signs up for blog updates.

  2. Kars says

    I read one of your articles today and continued reading the whole design 101 series. Because it was not an overload of information I now finished the last lesson. Thanks for sharing some really good ideas.

    I’m interested in webdesign and design in general. I like everything that comes along; typography, color, etc. I think I’ll keep an eye on your blog 😉

  3. says

    Pamela do you have the PDF compilation of your Design 101 e-book already?

    P.S. I’m one of your newsletter subscribers for like 5 months now, I think.