Our Thoughts
Priyanka Jeph
23 November, 2020
4 Minutes

Design Documentation — Style Guides and Design Systems

What are Style Guides and Design Systems? The Style Guide establishes the root for visual presentations and a design system connects components, patterns, and visuals together to become one single source of truth for products and brands. Well, something like that and as there are many differences there are similarities as well. Style guides and design systems both save a lot of time and misunderstandings. They both increase the workflow and efficiency of the team. They are both documents with different content, they both have the same purpose — allowing multiple contributors to work consistently to create a consistently awesome experience for people and set a unified voice and tone for a brand.

The question is why don't we simply call it documentation? Because they are simply just different kinds of documentations contributing to what is mentioned above and a lot more. Well, we can but there is a high probability that at some point we will have to explain the difference between the two in detail. Let's begin with style guides as they are comparatively concise, compact, and visually viable to understand.

Style Guides

A style guide is a documentation of the guidelines for a brand's visual and content elements. It defines the visual representation of a brand and establishes the root of its voice and tone. It is a document of the choice of colors, the prominence of the logo, and the language. It's a document of all things you see, read, and remember about a brand. Companies, Agencies, brands, freelancers, designers, and developers deploy the style guide to avoid wasted time and efforts in bringing the brand's message together.

An example of a style guide.
Zeplin

The purpose of a style guide is to make sure that contributors add to the guide clearly and cohesively that reflects a brand's style and ensures brand consistency for everything from writing to design. A style guide also supports marketing initiatives as everything in the style guide focuses on company values and goals.

Building a style guide describes a brand's strategy in a unified way. It is build to maintain consistency in work and flexibility in the team for a coherent and recognizable end product experience.

A Style Guide should contain: 

  1. Purpose — Individual pieces on the company's goals, values, perspective, and purpose.
  2. Product Branding Guidelines — Company’s internal baseline for product and service.
  3. Visual Elements — Defined visual styling of the components.
  4. Typefaces — Fonts and details on their usage.
  5. Voice and Tone — The editorial language details.
  6. Language — Clear communication in one language or more.

Design Systems

In a design system, the major part of the documentation is the list of components, at its core, this is a pattern library with code that is required to create and build from the components. A collection of all the pieces from the design system can be used to create interfaces, build screens, and workflows.
Companies choose many different ways to organize the content of the design system which is based on the product requirements and business goals. Most begin with most basic blocks like buttons, text boxes, and so on and then they build up through levels of abstraction to templates and whole pages.

An example of a design system.
Zendesk Garden

Some companies only list fully built interface components that are ready to use like date pickers, accordions, log in dialogues, and forms. Each of these components has details of how and where they will be used and how will they vary in look and behavior. 

Most design systems provide code to show how that interface is represented by an actual example. They also provide a list of variables that can be set either through cycling or through code. Some companies integrate their design system with their visual tools which make creating a screen or a new prototype is as simple as dragging and dropping from the design system. This is the advanced functionality of the design system and shows the possibility and power of a well-thought design system. 

Design systems are grounded in the stories of the teams behind the digital experience and needs of users.

A design system should be created with reusable parts with complete code to make sure that the company's design language is consistent throughout the product. 

A design system should contain:

  • The Building Blocks — Rules, Constraints, and Principles that set the foundation and guidelines for using the design system.
  • Design Elements — Colors, typefaces, layouts, and the remaining visual elements with their precise usage details.
  • Components — All those shapes and features that are required to develop new products and solve UI problems.
  • Patterns — Reusable combination of components with code.
  • Content — A defined voice and tone for the design system and the product.

Conclusion

As you decide to document and create your style guide or a design system, take into account that there is no correct way to get through this, there are no lengths and depths that can be pre-decided. All these decisions should be taken after considering the size of the company, the scope of the product, and business goals.  

Start by determining and documenting the basic building blocks - Rules, Constraints, and Principles and structure your style guide or design system's menu around what is required the most. 

The work over a style guide or a design system is never really over. As we mentioned in our previous blog — The Building Blocks of a Design System — A design system is a continuously evolving comprehensive guide and so is a style guide, they are versatile documentation that morph and change as the product does for a product that resonates with the needs of users with consistency and reliability. 

 

 

 

Priyanka Jeph