The Importance of Website Style Guides

Designers often deal with web projects that involve changing client needs, cramped schedules, and limited budgets. All of these wavering factors make it difficult to keep up with constantly changing demands when using the typical linear, sequential method of designing—especially when it only outputs a usable product at the very end of the project. Because of this challenge, many designers are borrowing practices from developers to create a more efficient and agile workflow.

Agile project management is a technique that is largely being adopted by designers, because it favors an adaptable, results-driven approach to a project over following a prescriptive plan. By working in increments that are measured by a usable product at the end of each cycle, the designer is able to demonstrate an interactive and tangible result to the client at each step. This helps ensure the client’s wants and needs are being met throughout the process, and it prevents any need for a major rework at the end of the project. The designer is able to quickly make changes, because the progress and direction is addressed at each increment, making it simple to implement alterations along the way.

How Do You Become Agile?

An extremely effective way to adopt the Agile method for your own use is to use website style guides. Typically used to establish a concrete set of regulations for a design to guarantee consistency in branding, some designers wait until the end of a project to write one – simply to hand off to those who will work with the website in the future. But that just takes up valuable time, and it doesn’t produce anything useful for the design process.

A more effective strategy is to create a web style guide as the first step in your design process, rather than your last. So instead of spending a large chunk of time designing the layout of a web page and having nothing to show for your time until the very end (and hoping it still satisfies the project’s goals), you continually turn out a workable product.

Create a style guide by developing your site’s page elements during your initial brainstorming. This includes writing the code for the major aspects of the interface, like navigational and interactive features. This helps you develop your product, its image and its functionality at the beginning, instead of while you build the site. You create content right away, which you can show and discuss with your client before moving forward. Refine the style guide so you can then construct the site from the content you’ve already created. You can experiment with the layout and the way you use your content, because the elements will already be coded and ready for easy incorporation.

What Does A Style Guide Look Like?

Once you’ve created your first guide, you’ll be able to develop a method for building future ones, but here is a general guideline for the important aspects to include.


This is where you provide a brief explanation of the project, including its goals and purpose, as well as your approach. This can help you retain focus on the ultimate goal of your site while you build pages.


Starting out by defining general design principles, this will be a flexible section of outlining basic grids, positioning and spacing for elements.


Explain which fonts you’ve chosen and how they’ll be used; you can give examples of what they look like in use to more fully describe their fit.


Outline guidelines for use of logos, colors and graphics in this section.


Everything from what buttons look like, to drop down styles, to text links and colors will be covered here. Anything that is used for interacting and navigating through the site should be coded.

HTML and Media

Define the styles of headers, body copy, button text and forms for the HTML elements, and details and proportions concerning any images or video you’ll use.


For any detail or design that doesn’t fit into a category, you can round them out here. For instance, how you’ll deal with coded elements when there is an exception within a page, like a failed search or comment feed.

Tailor this list to your unique needs, and experiment with the way you work with it to find the most efficient way to use it throughout your process. Here are some different ways other designers have created style guides.



These examples show thorough definitions of details of their website designs: complete with semantic explanations, as well as coding for elements and styles. This can be extremely useful in helping you maintain the main goal, consistency and focus of your design while you work.

However, the most important thing to remember is that when creating a web style guide at the start of a project, the purpose is to create something concrete and useful to work with right away. So your time may be served better by just creating the code for your page elements, which you can add more explanation to later on if necessary.

Resist the urge to dive right into constructing the layout of your pages in Photoshop upon agreeing to a project, as that takes up a lot of time upfront, and you still don’t have a fully developed product or consistent foundation at the finish of a mockup. By first developing the elements with clean code that can simply be placed into a layout, you build from a solid base of content, which you can continue to experiment with in different ways in your layout. This gives you the flexibility needed for Agile management, as you can choose to keep an open line of communication with your client as you design, and you’ll continually have something tangible to show them. And if they have a slight change in vision, you can easily tweak your work.

In short, the purpose of using web style guides is to become more efficient and adaptable in the fast-paced world of web design; it will certainly make you more productive in less time if you adopt it as common practice in your own work.

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