Illustration by Erica Fasoli
Designing a digital product from its conceptual and turning it into something that is a mature and polished product involves a certain level of standardization, organization, and communication that is consistent with your brand. To effectively do this, design teams use a UI style guide, which acts as a single source of truth regarding brand elements, messaging, and design.
Creating a UI style guide takes time but will help you streamline the design process and keep all team members aligned as you design new products. If you’re developing a style guide for your design team, this article has all the information you’ll need to get started, including what a UI style guide is and what to include in it so that your team can work efficiently and consistently, and deliver a great user experience.
What is a UI style guide?
A UI Style Guide is a resource that contains the necessary details related to your product’s user interface, which ensures continuity throughout the product’s design. It helps define elements like typography, colors, layout, and components that are approved to be used in accordance with brand guidelines.
Having a well thought out and developed style guide ensures that you are incorporating the unity principle of design throughout your entire product, no matter which screen a user is interacting with in their workflow.
By building your own UI style guide for your web design or app, you will have a complete collection of design decisions and instructions to ensure that all future designs align with the look and feel of your brand.
How a UI style guide can help you
Developing a UI style guide early on in a digital product’s development will both save time when making design decisions and prevent unnecessary UI debt (a result of inconsistent design decisions). This also ensures that no matter which designer is tasked with a new design, the principles of design are met because they have already been implemented into your style guide choices.
Having a UI style guide is particularly useful when growing a design team. As new designers are hired onto the team, the style guide is provided to them and will help them quickly adopt the look and feel of the product into their designs.
How do I create a UI style guide?
Creating a UI style guide will improve design collaboration and communication throughout the team. However, getting started does entail discussing all the design details for your product, no matter how minor they may seem. It’s important to decide what each element will look like, so your design remains consistent when new features or aspect ratios are introduced.
What should I include in a UI style guide?
Your UI style guide can be dynamic enough to include a multitude of design elements and components. Depending on the maturity of your design organization, you may want to start more broadly and then get granular as you flesh out a concrete style guide for your digital product.
In short, it is important to understand that not all style guides look the same or include documentation for all the same things. This means the UI style guide can be customized and include anything that is necessary for your design team and the product you are working on.
Most user interface style guides include documentation for typography, iconography, layouts and grids, color palette, and components. To help get you started, read through some of the following descriptions for each of these style guide categories.
The typography section of your style guide should identify:
- The selected font to be used throughout your product
- The variety of font sizes and weights to articulate the headings hierarchy
- Additional typographical elements like how a link should appear when it is present
It is also important to remember to check a font’s compatibility with different browsers and operating systems when designing for a web-based product, otherwise the font you include in the design may not appear the same to all users.
Icons are a very helpful and simplistic way to improve the accessibility of a product. They can be paired with typography to clarify what an element does or where it will send a user. Icons can also be used in more complex systems to help organize a variety of seemingly similar functions like controls, data, tools, navigation, and more.
Layouts and grids
Layouts and grids are frameworks to organize the visual elements of your digital product. They are imperative in ensuring consistency and continuity as a user moves from screen to screen. Without a standardized grid and layout, the components of your product can appear as if they are jumping around when a user clicks through to another page.
An agreed upon color palette is not only important for brand consistency but also for setting a certain tone and feel of the product. Color plays a vital role in how a user feels when using an app or other interface, which is why it is important that whatever color palette you choose, it stays consistent throughout the end-to-end experience.
The components you choose and how you decide to display them plays a significant role in the user experience. Standardizing the components used in your product will help clarify which components serve certain functions, thus preventing user confusion across your products. An additional resource to build along with your UI style guide is a design system, which will allow you to get more granular with how each component should look.
There are many different components necessary for constructing the UI of your product, including patterns, which are components that are paired together and help instruct team members on how a set of components should look when placed together. An example is a modal that contains text fields, typography, and buttons.
As mentioned previously, the best way to organize the different components you create is by using a design system. Not only will a design system save your design team valuable time, but it also improves developer handoff making it even easier for them to implement your designs.
UI style guide vs. design system
A UI style guide is a resource for your design team to reference whenever working on any new designs for an upcoming sprint. The difference between a UI style guide and a design system is that a UI style guide focuses on the overall aesthetics of the product, whereas the design system dictates how the components that fit within that aesthetic will look and function.
As an example, think of a blank webpage. The UI style guide is the source designers will review to ensure they are using the right font and color. A design system on the other hand is used to ensure the navigation bar at the top stays consistent throughout the site, in addition to the buttons, search bar, or even the contact form. The design system will convey the expected UI interactions for your components, which will be useful to you as the designer and the developer you work with.
It is also important that both your UI style guide and design system are developed with accessible web design in mind because the last thing you want is to unknowingly build accessibility barriers in your design.
You don’t need to decide between having a UI style guide or a design system, but rather you want both to ensure consistency and standardization throughout.
It’s time to start thinking about your UI style guide
If you don’t have a UI style guide yet, there’s no better time than now to start creating one. No matter the size of your design team, a UI style guide is a valuable time-saving resource. Start thinking about how you want the look and feel of your product to be and document it so that a future heuristics evaluation doesn’t uncover UI inconsistencies, which could be prevented with a single source of truth for your team, packaged in a UI style guide.