The Power of Style Guides

Style guides do an excellent job of saving your development team time, keeping the web code and design of your site consistent and also improving communication between departments. In order to make style guides work for you, they need to be created early on and regularly maintained to reflect the latest changes and preferences for your website.

In this post, we are going to discuss in further detail what a style guide is, the reasons for using one and some tips for getting started. By the end of this post, we hope that you will feel confident about building and maintaining your very own style guide!

What is a Style Guide?

A style guide is a document that outlines the various elements and guidelines for your site, including the types of fonts, color palettes, header styles and grid types that you want people to use. This way, no matter who is contributing to your website - product owners, developers, designers, producers - they are all on the same page when it comes to how you want things to look.

Building this one-stop place is only half the battle, though. It also needs to be regularly updated to reflect the latest changes to your branding and website. If your website goes through an update, for instance, your style guide will need to be modified to reflect the changes.

If you’ve never created a style guide before, or you’re unsure of what one looks like, you can check out some of the available guides online (also search under “pattern library”). A few of the brands that have their style guides online are Starbucks, Yahoo and  MailChimp.

What are the Reasons for Using a Style Guide?

Style guides may sound nice in theory, but is it really worth the time and effort that is required to establish one? Absolutely! Below are a few of the benefits you can see early on.

Streamline Future Projects

As your team grows and changes, your style guide will be the most effective way to communicate design expectations for your website. Though it’s a commitment to build a style guide, it saves time in the long run. People on your teams can refer to the guide when building new sections or pages of your website, and they won’t have to wait for someone to approve the exact styles. A style guide also provides peace of mind that everyone has the same information and can work together as a team.

Standardize the CSS

Another reason for using a style guide is that it allows you to standardize the CSS. Designers and developers can refer to the guide to see if something has already been written, and if so, can be easily extended. Without this guide, designers and developers have no idea as to the codebase and generally end up writing new styles, which only bloats the CSS.

Improve Communication

Better communication is an automatic benefit of style guides. The expectations are clear, and revisions can be made quickly and efficiently with far less questions and back-and-forth conversation. Having a style guide also provides everyone with a shared vocabulary so that team members can discuss the designs without any confusion.

Maintain a Consistent Design

A final benefit to creating style guides is that it favors a consistent design. Designers can refer to the guide to ensure they are following the best practices and that the additions will provide a cohesive look and feel throughout the site. This is especially helpful if you have a larger company where many different people will be working on your site from time to time. When the consistency of your design is maintained, it also results in a smaller codebase.

Tips for Building Out Your Guide

It’s always easier and more motivating to tackle a large project when you appreciate the value of it. Now that you know what a style guide can do for your company, let’s discuss some of the ways that you can get started building your very own.

Start with the Basic Elements of Your Site

Start at the top, with your site’s basic foundational elements, such as color palette, grid layout, styles for headers and body text and whatever else you feel is important. Many brands start with the color guide because they feel it is most crucial to their design. Red isn’t the same across the board, after all. Once you get started with one element, naming others should be more clear.

Incorporate More Patterns

The next step is to add in more patterns. In this context, patterns are a set of styles and markup that are used to make basic objects on your site such as buttons or a list of horizontal links. Add the exact markup that you need for each element and place it in your guide for future reference. As you see new patterns on your site, add them to your style guide.

Include Interactivity

If your site uses interactivity such as dropdowns, modals or tooltips, include these in your style guide. The purpose for doing this is to show others what these animations look like. Your team may be able to see static versions of your site’s interactivity, but it’s much more helpful when they can view the real thing and how the text helps users.

Provide Examples

Through everything you share in the style guide, make sure that you are providing clear, concise examples. For example, if you’re going to describe your brand as being original and quirky, explain what you mean. You can also show “correct” and “incorrect” examples so that users have a better understanding of your expectations.

Allow for Easy Maintenance

Your style guide is meant to be accessible and informative; it does not have to be a work of art. If you have to do a lot of extra work to make your style guide look good, then you’re doing too much. Your guide should be easy to maintain so that you can make quick, simple adjustments on a routine basis.

Using the Guide

You certainly didn’t go through all this work just to have your guide sit there. It’s time to get people using it. The first step is to let people around your workplace know that it exists! Introduce new team members to the guide and ask for feedback from existing members.

To streamline this process, consider building the style guide into your marketing automation platform. It can also be helpful to make the style guide searchable online rather than printing off hard copies.

Finally, keep in mind that your style guide is a work in progress. It will never be truly complete, but once you have something concrete in place, it’s a starting point that offers the benefits of improved communication, clear expectations and streamlined processes.

So what are you waiting for? Get your team on board, make the time and start building the style guide. It will be well worth it in the long run!

About the Author: Nicole Krosnowski

Nicole is a Designer at SEMGeeks. She is a Jersey girl who loves to “go down the shore” and spend her time at the beach. Nicole is a creative thinker, fueled by iced coffee and innovation. She loves to stay up to date with the latest trends in fashion and technology and uses this as design inspiration. With experience in web design, digital design and advertising, she approaches each project with a designer’s careful eye and a marketer’s strategic thought process.

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