Design guides are an invaluable tool for maximizing design team output, and for ensuring a consistent brand identity. We look at six essential components of successful design guides.

A design guide is more than just a document that comes with a new website or brand identity. A good design guide is a work of art in itself and has practical application in everyday design work.

Brand Identity Examples

Your design guide should showcase your brand identity in a visual format that’s representative of the way you want design materials to look. That’s a class example of show, don’t tell. (Although there is some telling in the guide to go with the visual examples.)

The best examples are real-case uses that exemplify exactly what the design standards are intended to portray.

Use screenshots from your website homepage, mobile homepage, app or any other place when the design is at its best.

The best part about using real examples in a design guide is that you don’t have to create extra work to showcase visual elements; you already have them in hand. Plus, team members will know that the written guideline works in actual practice because there’s visual proof.

Design Guidelines

Everything from colour swatches to typography palettes, to shapes and use of design elements, should be outlined clearly.

Why does the design look and function in a certain way? What’s the philosophy behind it?

Explaining these things can help users apply the design style more accurately and consistently across mediums. When it comes to website design, it is a good idea to include elements that might be different from print branding counterparts and how they relate. For example, many designers opt for a different typography palette online that mimics printed branding to maximize use of Google Fonts to Typekit for ease of use.

Make sure to note which typefaces are substitution if this is part of your design strategy.

When outlining design guidelines be specific when it matters—H1 tags are always 88 points or thumbnail images are always 200 by 200 pixels—but don’t over-communicate unnecessary details. You want team members to see information at a glance and use it, not get weighed down trying to find something in a set of specifications.

Voice and Personality

Writing style guidelines aren’t as fun to think about as other visual elements of a design guide, but they are just as important.

A descriptive writing style for the copy can also impact the visuals. It contributes to the type of imagery you choose to use and even elements such as colour and type. All of these items go together to create an overall personality for the brand.

It how the outside world will identify you.

What’s more is that a strong voice and personality becomes part of the visual identity as well. A good personality shows in design elements because users can almost identify design elements even outside the content of the rest of the brand. (Think Coca-Cola red or Disney’s signature typeface.)

 SEO Keywords

Search engine optimization might be one of the most-talked-about and least fun parts of website design. Think about keywords early and often.

Include them in the way you speak about the brand, in descriptive language about the design and put a list of the top keywords in the design guide itself.

A keyword list such as this brings the words you want to say to the top of mind, every time you see them.