What Goes in a Style Guide?

A style guide is a document to help designers stay consistent to the brand. A voice and tone represents the brand, so content guidelines are a key component. Yes, a true style guide should include not only the visual brand elements, but the content guidelines.

Last year, I recommended some of the content strategy deliverables that should find their way into a style guide.  I’ve since observed more and more guides that get crammed with information, only to sit on the figurative shelf, unseen and unused. While this sometimes comes down to a lack of governance or undefined workflow, it’s also sometimes the fault of the guide creator. We put so much in the style guide, it becomes unusable.

With that in mind, how do you decide what goes into the style guide?

Pick and Choose What’s in Your Style Guide

Not everything needs to go into a style guide. Here are three steps to build a guide that works for your team.

  1. Identify what the goals of the style guide are.
    For some organizations, the style guide is there as a reference, to look up details of a specific UI element or help text phrase. For others, the guide is intended to reflect the principles and brand that all creators need to ingrain in their minds and in their work. Understanding the goals of the style guide will help determine what to include, and how to organize the information so that it’s highly usable.
  2. Consider who the audience will be.
    Just as when designing a user flow, think about who will use this guide, and why. Each time you come up with something that could be added to the style guide, ask: will this make sense to that user? When and why will they need this?
  3. Look at examples.
    There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel! Check out Website Style Guide Resources for dozens of different style guides ranging from highly visual to entirely content-based.

These three steps will save time and energy. More importantly, they’ll lead to the creation of a useful, usable guide for your team.

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