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What is a “Style Guide” and do I need one?

Originally published: April 17, 2019

You may have heard your web designer (maybe even me!) ask if you had a "Style Guide" or if you needed one. And if you're here, then my guess is your not entirely sure what this is. Don't worry, most clients not in the design world need to ask. Here I'm breaking down what a Style Guide is and if your project needs one. P.S. If you do need one, of course I can help. 

What is a "Style Guide"?

A Style Guide is a document or packet, depending on how thorough, that someone (probably a designer) created for your brand that lays out all of the design details. This includes color schemes, fonts, button styles, borders, patterns, shadows, or whatever else the designer thinks is necessary to create a cohesive look.

With all the finite details broken down, this guide allows the company owners to use these styles across all company materials to maintain a consistent feel, aka a "brand". The idea is that the owner should be able to hand this over to any employee or contractor conducting design work and that everything will continue to look the same regardless of the person.

So from your website, to your email newsletters, to your marketing materials, etc. your customers can familiarize themselves with your brand every time they interact with one of your materials. This is called "brand recognition".

Do I need a "Style Guide"?

In my humble opinion, yes. These days most companies are catching on to the importance of great, cohesive design; so if your competitors have a professional brand that their customers are interacting with (aka becoming familiar with) everyday, then unfortunately a brand without... well, a brand, probably won't look so great.

Now, that isn't to say that you need a 40 page guide with every pixel of space accounted for. If you own a small business and aren't able to throw thousands of $ into a Style Guide then just having a professional designer come up with the basics could be good enough for your needs. A thought out color scheme, modern typography (fonts), and maybe a couple other simple, but thought out, styles could put you light years ahead than if you didn't have one.

Why do I require one?

When I am working on a client's website or UI (User Interface) design, I do require having a Style Guide. I love creating them, but it's completely fine if my client's already have one from a previous designer.

The reason I require a guide is not so much that I want to force anyone to have to go with a professional to create their website look, it's that if a client doesn't have this, I'm going to have to create one anyway. Meaning, since the nature of designing a website or app requires incorporating design elements, it's not really possible to build a site without one.

I have had clients ask if we can skip this stage and just come up with only a font and couple colors. Unfortunately, it's never that easy. So much has to be considered when deciding on "just colors" or "just fonts", and without having an official guide that everyone agrees on ahead of time, usually the client hopes to change things up midway through development which adds a lot of time, aka $ for you. Having a guide that is thought out and agreed on before jumping in to mockups or development is incredibly helpful for everyone.

The "Style Guide" is one of the steps in my design process. (Skipped if you already have a guide.) Check out the rest of my design steps to get an idea of what it would be like to work with me.

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