A style guide, or style manual, is a document that summarizes the guidelines for the design of a brand, product, or website. It helps you deliver consistently high-quality designs by ensuring a uniform appearance across many media types.
"Our brand color is red, we always use the same font, and there should be some white space around everything," says Head Communications. Okay, you reply as the in-house web designer, but which shade of red, what exact font, and how much white space? These are questions you shouldn't need to ask but will — as long as you don't have a style guide.
A style guide is just that: a document that guides you when working within a brand's style. Without it, designing is guess work. With it, you create on-brand and on point every time. Most of the times you will be sent a style guide to work with, but what if you're the one who needs to do the guiding?
Here's what's in a style guide, in short, to get you started:
Brand logo for use in different formats and colors
Fonts and how to use them
Product visuals, illustrations, or other branded graphics
Brand color palette, color-coded
Content templates, for different media types
When you create a style guide, you ensure that all these elements are consistent across various media and use cases. It helps you create a coherent whole, making a brand more recognizable to your audience.
Difference to a design system
In modern design, the terms style guide and design system are too often confused. We can use the terminology to find out the main difference:
A guide points you in the right direction; a style guide gives guidelines on how to design for a brand.
A system is more rigid, it gives you design elements on a granular level.
Where a style guide tells you which color and font to use, a design systems provides you with, for instance, the exact button to reuse in many different scenarios. Whereas a design systems grows continually, a style guide is something made and sparsely ever changed.
Style guides for web design
Style guides are an important part of web design and it is essential to treat them as such. Although a style manual gives a lot of freedom to ignore the rules, it doesn't mean you should. As a web designer one of your goals should be to create brand consistency for your clients. It doesn't sound sexy, but it's what helps them create value.
Whether you're given one or have to create it, the ability to work with a style guide is a fundamental tool in your designer skill set. Good luck!