What Is A Style Guide For Web Design And Development

October 27, 2021
Authored by:
Ian Loew
Featuring:

What is a style guide, you ask? Why do you need it? 

Well, even if you have an iconic brand logo design and identity system, you should not expect people to know how to deal with your brand effectively. To ensure consistency in how your brand appears, you’ll need a guide that tells you how to go about your brand’s visual elements.

Besides, developing your appearance according to technology innovations keeps you competitive and attractive to more customers. A style guide will help you adapt consistently.

Sounds complicated? Don’t worry. In this article, we've compiled all the necessary information you need to know about a style guide. Now, let’s dive In!

What Is A Style Guide And Why Is It Important?

A style guide is a set of rules created by a brand. The rules explain how to consistently use visual elements to convey the brand’s identity. Those visual elements include your logos, colors, images, typography, among others. 

When creating a style guide, you can hire a designer or an agency. If you're a startup, though, it might be difficult to make that investment early in your business's growth. That means it might be better to create the style guide yourself. Whatever you choose to do, the beginning is the best time to create a style guide.

Here are some reasons why you should create a style guide.

  • The style guide helps ensure continuity in the brand’s visual identity. It is a reference source for the company and the designer in cases of a rebranding project, for example. It also helps you properly align your visual elements with website development trends such as push notifications, AI-powered chatbots, and others.
  • The style guide is a huge time saver. When standards are in place, it is much easier and faster to create branded material with consistent colors, appropriate alignments, attractive compositions, and much more.
  • It maintains brand recognition. When your visual elements and messaging are consistent across marketing platforms, consumers will immediately know if an email, for example, came from you. 

As your brand expands and appears in more places, the style guide becomes more important to ensure that you present your brand's identity, objectives, and services consistently across all brand touchpoints. 

Elements For Creating A Web Design Style Guide

While there is no precise brand style guide to use as a reference, there are some crucial elements you should include in your style guide. 

Let's walk through those essential elements.

1. Colors

Colors are a crucial element. They don’t just ensure your marketing collateral is aesthetically pleasing. They also have a psychological influence on perceptions and feelings. So, if you use the right color, you can, in a way, persuade a person to act in a certain way.

You must explain the brand’s color palette when creating the style guide.

In web design, color palettes are a collection of colors selected based on the color theory. It is presented in a hexadecimal value (HEX code) to interact with the computer and specify how much color to display. 

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The following are the essential components of a style guide color palette:

  • Primary color palettes: These are the brand's main colors, all additional colors in the brand come from them. Most brands use from one to three colors. Also, the brand should specify where and how to use them. That’s usually in the form of a do’s and don'ts list. 
  • Secondary color palettes: The secondary colors are complementary to the primary color(s). They are made by combining any two of the three primary ones. They have a range of one to six colors.
  • Neutral color: This color is for the background. The most used colors are white and gray.

It's not enough to select colors that go well together. You’ll need to find out how much of each color, along with the others, will create the desired effect in your color scheme. 

As a result, brands include a color proportion in their style guide to indicate the priority of the colors associated with the brand. It might be presented as a percentage or as a comparison chart.

Walmart, for example, demonstrates the distinctiveness between blue degrees. It does this by showing that medium blue is the most dominant, followed by dark blue and light blue in the same proportion. Then, it only gives a third for five colors in combination with the core colors.

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Experiments have shown that altering the proportions makes a radical difference, especially with high contrast. However, when it comes to color distribution in a design, that depends on the dominant color. It also depends on what you want to accomplish with the design and the people you want to target. 

2. Typography

Typography is the section where you define your alphabetical letters and writing style. You should include the font, size, weight, line height, and much more.

Some companies design their own fonts and provide download links for the typefaces they want. They use their typeface for documentation and advertising. Also, some companies incorporate the primary typeface into the brand logo.

The style guide specifies the primary and the secondary typeface, font sizes (large for headings, medium for subheaders, and lower for lengthy paragraphs), and font weights (light, bold, heavy). 

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Furthermore, just like colors, brands choose their fonts based on typography theory. Based on that theory, fonts have a psychological influence. They may have an impact on your brand's identity and messaging. 

For example, brands like Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Spotify select Sans Serif fonts for one apparent reason: they convey modernity. If you consider the fact that all these companies are technology companies, then it does make sense for them to choose that type of font.

If you want your brand to be perceived as the more old-fashioned type, on the other hand, use Serif fonts. Time, Tiffany and Co. and Vogue are only some of the brands that use this type of font. Check out their logos:

One look at those logos and two values immediately come to mind: respectability and tradition. These are values these brands want to be associated with.

3. Grid

Grids are a framework of intersecting parallel lines used to instruct designers on how and where to arrange elements on the page. The goal is to maintain a consistent layout style across all brand touchpoints. That gives a much more professional appearance.

The style guide includes the grid's margins, columns, and spacing. Together, they create a comprehensive, consistent structure for the page's content.

  • The columns: These are vertical components that span from top to bottom in the grid framework. They are all the same size. The 12-column grid is the most used since it allows designers to split the provided space into halves, thirds, fourths, and sixths.
  • The gutters: These are the spaces between the columns in the grid.
  • The margins: These are the space between the outside column's edge and the frame.

Aside from consistency, there is a range of screen sizes out there. The grid is responsible for the design's responsiveness since it may shrink and expand as you resize the screen. 

4. Graphics and Icons

Icons are small graphic elements. Graphics, on the other hand, are visual representations that include photographs, drawings, animation, diagrams, bar charts, and more.

Branded graphics and icons designs build trust. They also increase conversions, encourage users to engage, and increase brand awareness. You need to choose one style that complements and harmonizes with your brand's visual elements.

Think of Nike, the most well-known visual brand. It doesn't need a word to be recognized. The Nike Swoosh symbol is enough for people to remember it and trust the brand. 

Nike has not only promoted its products through sponsored partnerships with athletes and other celebrities. It has also created relevant storytelling graphics that reflect the brand's value and mission.

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The image above is an example of Nike's Storytelling Photography from Instagram. It is photography that tells the story of a subject matter without using motion pictures or words.

However, after reading the description, you will have a deep emotional connection with the brand. You will take action, remember it, and become loyal to it even though the brand didn't use its logo.

Nike has evolved into more than clothing brands because of its effective use of graphics. It has become a part of sports culture.

5. Photos

You need to choose photos that appeal to the target audience's style while considering other elements such as the brand's mission and aesthetic components.

A good example of a visual brand is National Geographic. In their style guide, they have included three key filters:

  • They need always to have a human element. Therefore, they want to avoid merely displaying landscapes with no human presence.
  • They want action in the image in order to make you feel as if you are present and at the location where they are presenting. 
  • They want vast and unexplored spaces with the subject or elements in pictures that are comparable in style to the image.

These filters reflect the brand's formulation and communicate its concept and feeling. Also, if you look at the National Geographic Instagram account, you will see the same style described in their style guide.

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Photos are extremely effective for social media branding and marketing, particularly on Instagram. It is the best place to post branded photos and engage with your audience to gain more trust and instant recognition.

6. Voice

The brand voice is the method by which the brand conveys its identity and values to customers. It must be consistent and cohesive with the brand's persona across all platforms and brand touchpoints.

In the style guide, the brand must provide a detailed, comprehensive description of how they communicate with their customers. Also, the brand should describe their personality and value to ensure that they will always sound the same in all brand touchpoints. 

Red Cross discusses what a style guide tone of voice means to them. Just look at what it says about brand identity:  "How we talk is as important as what we talk about". Then, Red Cross goes on to define their personality and beliefs.

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Every brand has its own set of expectations, relationships, and stories that influence how it communicates visually with the world. Incorporating these aspects into the style guide will build visual elements that develop a strong emotional connection with the audience.

7. Forms

A webform is a part of a website where visitors can send their information to the company or app to accomplish their objective. It could be anything from signing up for a new service to writing a product review or downloading a file.

Before you start working on the form part of your style guide, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the form's style, type, and purpose?
  • What do customers want and need?
  • Where should the form be inserted? 
  • Is the form easy-to-use and quick to complete?

The form should also include terms that customers are familiar with and may search for in search engines. Furthermore, it is critical to understand users and their needs. 

For example, when registering with Pexels, the user must first answer a question about what they want to accomplish. Then, the user will be directed to a page where they may fill out the form. The form page's headers are different. They depend on their answer.

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Knowing what your audience wants can help you decide what information to include, how to present it, and what additional information to provide to users. Take the help of a website design agency to help you create the right navigational flow for your site. 

8. Buttons

Buttons play a crucial part in a user's interaction with the system. They're required in many places, including in forms, website homepages, dialogs boxes, toolbars, and much more.

When creating a style guide, the button should include features such as a text label, background, border, icon, and so on. It might also include the primary and secondary buttons.

  • The primary buttons: These are used for a call to action, such as registration, purchase, submission, and so on. The most common button design is one with white text on a blue background.
  • Secondary button: These work in combination with the primary buttons when the user needs to learn more or go into detail. Also, when doing secondary actions such as canceling, skipping, declining, among others.

Usually, brands choose familiar button designs. However, it's critical to use suitable visual cues such as size, shape, color, shadow, and others to make it easy for users to click on your buttons. 

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A consistent button design allows users to respond quickly and improves the website's overall appearance and feel.

9. Spacing

Spacing refers to the visual blanks or the space between elements. It makes the design more legible and less crowded. It is used between graphics, text, margins, columns, sections, paragraphs, and other elements. Usually, It is filled with a color as long as there are no components such as text or images.

The style guide should include all measurements, including size, height, and depth, in all the visual elements, from the logo to the forms to the text. However, there are three main components in spacing you need to know:

  • Padding: It is the space between the outside border and a component inside the element.
  • Alignment: It is the positioning of the component inside an element.
  • Dimensions: These include the height and width of the elements.

Although Ripple Impact University's logo is made up of numerous components, its spacing is convenient. They began by defining the unit of their spacing system then moving on to demonstrate the principles for balancing spacing with other visual elements. 

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The brand should ensure that all spacing is balanced. If there’s too little space between elements, consumers might not be able to understand what the brand is trying to say. If there’s too much space, the brand message may also be misunderstood. Good spacing enables brands to convey their messages effectively.  

Wrapping Up

If you want to build a long-lasting brand, then you must create a professional style guide. A professional style guide will help ensure your brand’s visual identity remains consistent, not just on your website, but across your other marketing platforms as well.

Keep in mind that creating a professional style guide is not a process that you can complete in a single day or week. Years of hard work and planning should go into it. After all, a style guide is not just any other book. It’s a book that explains who you are as a brand and enumerates the values that you represent. You need to put some careful thought into creating your style guide to ensure successful company branding.

So, know who you are as a brand and the values that are important to you. From there, create a consistent identity through visual elements your target audience will relate to.

Success isn't a product of chance; it's the consequence of careful planning and hard work. No matter how big or small your company is, creating a style guide should be a priority. 

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Ian Loew is a web entrepreneur and inbound marketing expert, and the Owner and Head of Business Development of Lform Design. After four years of helping Fortune 500 companies with MGT Design, Ian embarked on his freelance career before establishing Lform Design in 2005. He leads a team of creative professionals to deliver inspired online experiences via modern, responsive websites that reflect his clients' core values. When not at the helm, Ian can be found mountain biking with friends or spending time with his family.

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