After recently completing an extensive website style guide for a client, we were reminded just how much this document reflects the orchestral nature of web design. Like performers with their instruments, all of the design elements have merit individually, yet when they come together in unison they create a unique and integrated experience.
The job of the style guide is to define the various parts of the website system and provide an understanding of how it all fits together under the design vision. It’s a large undertaking with immense payoff when done correctly. The manner in which we approach this depends entirely on the individual project and its requirements.
Here are three key questions to ask when planning for a style guide in your next website design project:
1) What are the current and future needs?
Together with the client, set the goals of the style guide. Outlining parameters will help to focus your attention on the most meaningful and useful information to be shared. The task at hand will quickly become unruly if you skip this step.
2) Who will be using the Style Guide?
An early requirement will often be to provide the development team with a roadmap to clarify the design intent and outline systems as the site is being built. Helpful details may include specific pixel dimensions and states for core graphic elements (ex. tools, controls, buttons and icons), a list of typographic styles, and logic for how elements are spaced, placed, and positioned on the various pages.
Other users of the style guide might include members of the marketing team who will find value in understanding what should go into creating future promotional assets (ex. image dimensions, banner sizes), and how they fit into the overall design vision. If an existing brand style guide exists, it should work in conjunction with the website style guide so be mindful of this from the outset.
Copywriting and image specifications can further align future content additions. The website should have a consistent tone of voice to form an emotional connection with visitors. Photography and illustration are often used to further that connection and portray an atmosphere connected to the organization’s brand. Providing clear direction on how to select appropriate images including considerations on style, cropping, and positioning will prove to be an indispensable resource for content creators.
3) How can I make my life easier?
Now that you know the goals and end users of the style guide you can strategically plan your design work around your deliverables. Will you need to provide icon measurements and instructions on how to make new ones to match the set? Great, then make sure to write up notes as you create the initial set and keep these notes together with your measurements and sizes for easy reference. This will not only keep you well organized for the style guide creation but also consistent in your approach. The same thinking can apply to all of the elements you create. Harvesting details early will ease your workload and help to define logic within your system as you go.
Another good tip is to prioritize the Table of Contents of your style guide so you can consider how your users will find the information they will need. Itemizing sections isn’t enough; try to provide brief descriptions on section contents to create a clear path to key information. Establishing this framework at the onset will also help you, the designer, in keeping the full website system in mind as you work through smaller details and gather style guide content in the design phase.
The style guide is an abundant resource and its creation should be part of the plan from the early stages whenever possible. It helps to smooth communication by establishing a common language for clients, designers and developers. Let your style guide act as a conductor, not only unifying and shaping the website experience, but also the website design experience.
Siobhan Kennedy is a Senior Designer at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
Experience Thinking innovation firm in Product UX Strategy, User Experience Design & Usability Testing for Companies: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Canada.
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