Designers and developers in today’s app industry spend a great amount of time working together in many companies and teams. The result of this cooperation should be fully functional and beautiful digital products with a user experience that is executed well enough to attract a lot of users. But there are many factors that can decide whether a product is successful on the market or not. One of them is a unified visual language of the product, which helps create a strong and trustful relationship with your audience. And here come the style guides.
A style guide is a comprehensive document that consists of all the elements of a product’s interface, from text styles to buttons and more complex components. Creating one may take some time, especially in the early stage of the process, but the advantages of using it are definitely worth it.
Using a library of reusable elements helps you create a unified visual experience, and, as we know, consistency is key. When a user understands how a given component works, they will have no trouble using it on a different screen. This, in turn, enhances the usability of the product as a whole.
Style guides facilitate faster development as well. This benefit is largely appreciated by developers. Thanks to the component libraries, it is easier for them to build screens faster and more efficiently. A developed element that can be used in various places saves time and budget. A style guide also makes design projects more approachable and accessible to developers.
Additionally, imagine a situation where a project is assigned to a different designer. Having a documented UI provides a perfect reference for them to create new views and improves communication between the dev team and the designers, because it clarifies things.
Atomic Design and style guide elements
As we already know, a style guide consists of all elements used in a design project: color palette, typography and components like buttons, modals, input fields, form elements, lists, dialogs, alerts, loaders, bars, and many, many more. There are various ways to build a style guide, so let’s take a look at one of the approaches — the Atomic Design methodology developed by Brad Frost, a web designer, speaker, and writer. He describes it as a mental model that helps us think of a user interface as a cohesive whole and a collection of parts at the same time. Atomic design incorporates:
Let’s use one of the apps we have recently designed to show the example of creating a style guide using the Atomic Design methodology.
They represent the fundamental entities of UI elements and cannot be broken down any further. These can be e.g. colors, fonts, labels, inputs, icons, buttons or even animations. On their own, atoms are of no use, but joined together they become quite handy.
Combined atoms are called molecules. This is the phase when atoms suddenly have purpose. Let’s take an iOS navigation bar into consideration. The color of the bar’s elements, the fonts used, and the icons create a molecule together — the navigation bar. Another example — the label, the input field, and the icon also form a molecule.
Organisms become crucially important in forming product pages/views, since they are groups of molecules and/or atoms bonded together. This means they are complex and large elements of the interface, usually interactive. This is when the final design slowly begins to take shape because, thanks to organisms, we are able to produce templates and high-fidelity views of the digital product.
Understanding atoms, molecules, and organisms is enough to create a UI style guide. Elements included in one can be used to form templates and pages, which are the final components of the Atomic Design model.
Templates are composed of groups of organisms. Their purpose is to show the structure of the page, but without the actual content. This can be compared to wireframes, which help understand the UI structure and see the components in action.
Those are the high-fidelity screens that represent individual instances of templates. Placeholders are filled with real content, which is applied to the whole template’s elements. Pages are views that are shown to users, so based on their interaction with the components, we can assess and change the construction of elements if needed.
No matter what kind of project you’re involved in and whether you’re a designer or a developer, style guides are always something you will benefit from. They also provide a perfect resource for stakeholders and managers to help them understand the ongoing process of UI creation. Thus, it is very important to prepare a style guide taking its users into consideration. It ought to be obvious not only for the designers, but for the whole team.
You also need to consider a style guide as a living document. It evolves with every iteration of changes, so starting to create it from the beginning of the design process seems quite reasonable. Not only does this help releasing a better product, but also reduces the overall cost of development.