The practice and art of style guides

27 Apr 2010 - 9:32pm
6 years ago
1 reply
1243 reads
Michelle Bacigalupi

I have the opportunity and task to create a style guide for our existing product. Our company is set to double in size this year and as the only (so far) XD person scale is an issue. I've started research style guides but thought I'd ping the expertise of this group as well. So here are a few questions...

  • What organization, in your experience, has worked best? 
  • What pitfalls do you wish you had avoided?
  • How did you go about getting participation and buy in?
  • How did you set it up? 
  • Did you make it printable?
  • Is including a place for comment / annotation useful?
  • Any other thoughts...




28 Apr 2010 - 1:54pm
Jeff Kraemer

Hi Michelle,

I started a IxD style guide for my organization last year under almost identical circumstances. Here's what I learned:

I spent years as a web editor, and I learned that it's a truism among copy editors that no writer, however keen, ever reads a style guide. So--who's going to refer to this? When and why?

Ultimately, I find that the style guide is for me. It's a catalogue of decisions I've already made, a means of maintaining consistent design. I might refer to it as I prototype, but it's the prototype, not the guide, that developers and others will refer to. If you're expecting new UX colleagues, then you'll share it, and you'll need rules about updating it.

I had no trouble getting "buy in," per se, since everyone thinks a style guide like this is a great idea. But enforcing the consistency the guide represents (see the part about copy editors and writers above) is the real work.

Mine is currently a Word doc organized by alphabetized features or elements (pagination, modal overlays, etc.), with a table of contents, just like a copy editing style guide. But the gleam in my eye is to recreate the style guide as a prototype that actually shows how features or elements should work, rather than just describing them. Since I'm about the only one who will use it, doing that depends on how much time I have on my hands!

Hope that helps,


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