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How to create a UI style guide to keep your designs consistent

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

July 08, 2022

As a designer, you know consistency is key. When everything in your design looks and feels like it belongs together, it creates a more unified and professional final product. It answers your brief and carries your organization’s colors with flair. And everything your design team creates is consistent, and consistently good — which makes you a VERY desirable team to work with.

But how do you ensure consistency across different design elements or projects, especially when multiple designers are working on the same project? This is where a UI design style guide comes in. Allow us to explain…

What is a UI design style guide?

A UI style guide contains all the rules and guidelines for the design of a product’s user interface. It includes everything from typography to iconography to color palettes and beyond.

Why is a UI style guide important?

Here’s what makes this a handy document to have in your back pocket:

What are the risks of working without a UI style guide?

Without one, you’re playing with fire. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Your product could lack consistency, which may make it appear amateur or off-putting to users. Visual cues play a big role in the user journey; when they’re inconsistent, the product might not deliver the experience users expect. If you want people to part with their hard-earned money, your product needs to look professional and trustworthy.
  • It will be harder for designers to work together, as they won’t have a common reference point. This can lead to frustration and wasted time.
  • You’ll end up spending more money in the long run, as you’ll have to keep redesigning elements you could have just reused.
  • There will be no single source of truth for the product’s design, which can lead to confusion and disagreement among the team.

What should your style guide include?

Now that we’ve established why having a UI design style guide is a smart move, let’s take a look at what it should include. You can also use this as a checklist when creating your own guide.

  • A grid system: a grid system is a set of rules governing the placement of elements on a page. It helps to create a sense of order and hierarchy and makes it easier for designers to lay out content in an easily understandable format. The grid system includes everything from the width of margins to the size of gutters.
  • Spacings: this is the distance between elements on a page and includes everything from the margins to the padding. Getting the spacings right is important for creating a sense of balance and harmony in your design. Use smaller spacings for tweaking elements within components and larger spacings for placing elements on the page.
  • Breakpoints: a breakpoint is a point at which the layout of a page changes in order to accommodate different screen sizes. This is important for responsive design, as it ensures the content will look good on all devices.
  • Typography: typography refers to all the rules for how you format and place type. This includes everything from the typefaces and font sizes to line spacing and the hierarchy of headings and subheadings.
  • Text values: text values are the way words appear in your design, such as putting all titles in title case. Button CTAs might be in all caps, and body text might be in sentence case. Define your rules and stick to them!
  • Numerical values: numerical values are your rules for numbers. For example, you might decide all prices should appear with two decimal places or dates need to be written in a certain format. Again, define your rules and stick to them.
  • Rules for buttons: buttons are one of the most important elements in any UI, as they’re the primary way users interact with your product. As such, it’s important to have strict rules for how you’ll design them. This includes everything from the color and shape of the button to the size of the text and the spacing around it. You should also avoid having multiple buttons on one page (keep analysis paralysis at bay!) and get user feedback on their actions. No one likes clicking ‘pay now’ only for nothing to happen. Cue panic!
  • Iconography: an iconography system contains all the rules for how you use icons. This includes everything from the style of the icons to their color to their size.
  • Colour palette: a color palette is a set of complementary colors used in your product. A palette helps to create a unified look and feel and makes it easier for designers to choose colors that work well together.
  • Layout guidelines: these should contain all the rules for how content is laid out on a page. This includes everything from the size and spacing of elements to the use of white space.
  • Imagery: imagery guidelines contain all the rules for how you use images, such as the size and resolution of images and their placement on the page.
  • Logos: logo guidelines include everything from the shape and size of the logo to its color and placement.
  • Accessibility: accessibility guidelines contain all the rules for how you make your product usable for people with extra needs. This includes everything from the use of alternative text for images to the use of easily readable fonts.
  • Rules for forms: form design rules include everything from the use of labels and input fields to the spacing between elements. It should also encompass error messages, visual cues (such as a longer field for ‘other comments’), and label placement.
  • Rules for tables: guidelines for tables should include everything from the use of headers and footers to the shading of cells. You should also specify the alignment of text within cells and whether or not to use borders.
  • Gestalt principles and the law of similarity: the law of similarity states that elements that are similar look like they’re part of the same group or related in some way. You can use this to your advantage by grouping related items together and making sure the items in each group are similar to each other. Why is it important to include this in your style guide? Because it will make your product easier to use and help people understand how to navigate it. Read our guide to using Gestalt principles in design for more tips.

How to make a UI style guide: best practice

Creating a UI design style guide is no easy feat. But with our best practice tips, you’ll be well on your way to success. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Define the purpose of your style guide

The first step in creating a style guide is to define its purpose. What are you trying to achieve with it? Do you want to create a unified look and feel for your product? Do you want to make sure all your designers are using the same set of rules? (Probably both.) Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start putting together a plan for how to get there.

2. Know your audience

Who will use your style guide? Is it just for your design team, or will it also be other teams, such as marketing and product teams? Knowing your audience will help you decide what to include in your style guide and how to structure it.

3. Gather existing assets

Before you start creating anything new, gather all your existing assets, such as product logos, color palettes, and previous design guidelines. Having all of these in one place will make it easier for you to create a new style guide that’s consistent with what already exists.

4. Decide on the structure of your style guide

To start putting together the actual style guide, you need to decide on its structure. How are you going to organize all the information? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but try and think in terms of the order in which designers work.

5. Create a visual identity section

The first section of your style guide should outline your product’s visual identity. This is where you’ll define things like your logo, color palette, and typography. Including these elements in your style guide will help to create a unified look and feel for your product.

6. Define the user interface

The next section of your style guide should focus on the user interface. This is where you’ll define things like your product’s layout, navigation, and buttons — elements that shape the overall user experience.

7. Create a section for content

The final section of your style guide should cover content, including elements like the tone of voice and the style of writing. Having all of these in one place will help to ensure your product’s content is consistent and on-brand.

8. Make it easy to use

Once you’ve created your style guide, make sure it’s easy to use. Add items like a table of contents and an index so that people can easily find what they’re looking for. And make sure to keep it up to date as your product evolves.

9. Get feedback and iterate

Finally, don’t forget to get feedback from your team and iterate on your style guide. As your product grows and changes, so too will your style guide. By getting feedback and making changes, you can ensure that it always stays relevant and up to date.

10. Use tools that are up to the job

Diagramming tools can be a big help when creating a UI design style guide. With Cacoo, you can create high-quality diagrams that are easy to share and update. And because Cacoo runs in the cloud, you can access your diagrams from anywhere on any device. That means the second someone makes a change to the guide, everyone knows about it — which is exactly what you want when consistency is your goal.

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