Why companies are using more style guides than ever?
An investment that guarantees brand consistency and unified criteria between the company departments.
For those who are not familiar with the concept, a style guide is a library of reusable elements with accessible documentation that can be shaped and used by app developers and designers to create objects and experiences.
Lately, the value of design systems is up for discussion, but one of the most frequent problems is how to sell it, how to make it look attractive. Nobody said it was easy. Clearly, each company has to deal with a series of circumstances over and over again regarding their products. However – we will later see why– it’s better to foresee them, deal with them at an early stage and then work to improve them in a consistent manner.
Boost your backstage
One of the most frequently heard statements is that people that want to buy a drill don´t really wish to buy one. It’s safe to say that they want, at least, a hole in the wall. And if we extend this reasoning we could say that people don’t even want a hole, they want a painting hung on the wall. Now then, what does this short narration have to do with what we said earlier? It might well be that after having conversations with different actors in the company many will agree and say: “Yes, we know that we need a style guide”, but sometimes the reactions are not positive because a style guide is not really a product in its own right. It is not something you launch and sell to your customers. Or maybe it is, but not directly. This way, your clients benefit from the existence of a style guide but it all happens behind the scenes. Maybe sometimes we forget that nobody truly needs a style guide but it is essential to have the things that could be done with it. It is like selling the features of an extraordinary word processor. Nobody cares much about them, but maybe developers. What common people want is the written text. Somehow, we must fully appreciate what it’s not seen to achieve something and that is backstage.
In some experiences it happens that even after having agreed that the organization needs and will do a style guide, there are still many challenges that are not easy to tackle. Along the company corridors you may start to hear things like: “What for? We already have something similar,” or “We have mobile developers that have their own file,” or “We have architects.” So they could probably say: “We already have this and we don’t need it. Let’s rather focus on our next product.” However the UX team will make their voices heard: “The style guide will help us make that product,” and maybe the answer to that will be: “No, no, no, let’s just work on the product.” But ultimately to design the style guide is to design the product.
So instead we should have told them something else. We should have said: “We will help you make your product. If you are interested to know how, there is something called a style guide but what we are going to make is your product.”
From top to bottom or from bottom to top?
It should be noted, because it is important, that a style guide must exist within the organizational culture. Thus, we’ve noticed that there are two possible endings. Occasionally, a style guide starts from scratch as a foundation stone with a couple of designers and developers or people from the product team saying: “Okay, let’s begin with a set of rules and principles and maybe later a small set of tools we can use.” And then it begins to grow slowly from there.
Other times, it starts from top to bottom. The CEO or VP, or any other senior executive says: “We are using this style guide. Everyone has to use it from now on”. And after some commotion and turmoil, everybody starts using it.
It’s time to say it: after much analysis, one of the things we’ve noticed is that high-performance organizations that are permanently creating new products and projects, almost always (not to say always) have a style guide implemented somehow.
So, I believe that the important thing is not only to find funding or resources but also find allies and kindred spirits and make the path by walking along a new way of working.
A style guide acts as a unique truth source for an organization and must evolve continuously to harbor all the design elements such as typography, brand colors, icons, designs and more. This can be used as a framework for any project making sure that all the elements are updated and comply with the company standards.
Advantages of having a style guide
It improves collaboration between the different work teams: having a centralized design file and system guidelines improves communication between developers, designers, product managers.
It speeds up efficiency development because these systems are constantly updating and are prepared to work with a dynamic and flexible methodology to promote quick changes in the companies.
It achieves UX quality and consistency because the style guide provides a matrix of tested elements that can be applied to any project.
It improves marketing time because the implementation of a style guide cuts out repetitive tasks done by design and development teams and allows them to work on the creation of innovative ideas.