Style Guides for Web Design and Development

style-guide

Developers, designers and web administrators are always looking for ways to improve how they manage the look, feel and complexity when building a web site. This can be difficult when we have multiple team members or new members involved in ongoing projects. So how can we help maintain global branding and development patterns for sites that all users can utilize? Style guides.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a document of code standards that details the various elements and patterns of a site or application. It is a one-stop place to see all visual styles of the site such as headers, links, buttons, color pallets and any visual language that is used on the site.

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Check out a few of the other style guides below published by some great brands.

Why should you use a style guide?

Style guides take extra time to develop up front but we have found that they have numerous beneficial factors for developing.

  • Faster build time for new sections and pages.
  • Design consistency is easier to maintain
  • Designers, developers and content owners have a one-stop guide to reference.
  • New team members joining the project can refer to the guide for the exact style use.
  • Keeps both code and design consistent throughout the site.
  • The guide allows us to standardize our code (CSS, JS, HTML), keeping it small and quick to load.

Steps to building a style guide?

Template

Start your guide with the sites foundations. These will include elements like color palette, fonts, headers, body text and grid layouts. These basic elements are the foundation global elements of your site that set the tone for your style guide.

Patterns

Next start adding in your site patterns. These would include buttons, logos, images, icon library, form styles, etc. Any element that belongs on your site should be included.

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Documentation

Documentation is essential to make a style guide successful. Your documentation is the key to keeping a consistent style and development pattern throughout the site. Documentation can be done in the code itself with comments or using interactive modals or tool tips in the style guide.

Cascade Implementation

After completing the base code you can start integrating it into your CMS system. Not only can we use a style guide for visual and front end documentation but also for how the content functions within your CMS.

The following elements can be added to help guide developers in with the site setup:

  • Formats
  • Blocks
  • Template regions such as header, footer, navigation, widgets and dynamic feeds for news/events.
  • Build out full examples of your data definition regions. See example below of Cascade Server data definition containing all site content input areas.

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Using the guide

So you have completed building your style guide. Now what? The first step is talking to your team about how to use the guide and what updates should continue to be made during projects to it. As new member join your team reference the guide as a way to introduce them to your site styles and code languages. Utilize the style guide when testing new code or modules on your site or just as a way to present new design elements to the team. The possibilities are endless.

Your style guide will never be complete and should continue to evolve as your site does.

References

 

Keana Lynch
Keana Lynch is the Director of UX Design & Development at Beacon where she has provided leadership and consultation for over 35 Higher Education projects. She specializes in the analysis, design, and implementation of websites. Keana is very passionate about design and development strategies focused on user experience, accessibility, multi-device interactions, and technical best practices. Outside of work Keana enjoys spending time with her three dogs, hiking, kayaking and volunteering with local animal rescue groups.
By | 2017-06-16T12:24:15+00:00 September 17th, 2015|Cascade CMS|Comments Off on Style Guides for Web Design and Development

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Higher Ed Website Redesign

After recent experience with several higher education website redesigns, I’ve come up with a list of the top ten ways that you, as a higher education client, can prepare for an upcoming website redesign project.  Though these items aren’t technically required right at the beginning of a redesign project, they are all eventually needed and the sooner they are brought to the table, hopefully the more satisfactory the project results.

  1. High resolution .eps or .ai files of  all variants of the official logo (including reversed text, for example)
  2. An official “style guide” (preferred) or, minimally, a list of brand/official fonts and colors (with hex codes please)
  3. Considerations of all target audiences to be addressed by the website (prospective students, alumni, faculty/staff, community, media, etc.)
  4. A variety of high resolution images of the campus, students, faculty/staff and activities, in both portrait and landscape formats
  5. User id and password (read only access is usually fine) for any secure areas of the site that will be redesigned
  6. Documentation of any dynamic/database driven pages currently in use (a data-driven, searchable academic catalog, for example) as well any forms and 3rd party sites linked to the live site (a third party site for prospective students to apply, for example)
  7. Any  print or electronic marketing materials/brochures that have a graphical presence that should be considered for the website redesign
  8. Requirements for search engine optimization and analytics tracking
  9. List of websites with a similar look and feel to what you are trying to achieve with the redesign (do not have to be .edu sites)
  10. Bonus points:  review my previous blog “Terms you need to know for your website redesign

With these items in mind, I hope that your upcoming website redesign is very successful… Best of luck!

By | 2017-08-08T08:27:13+00:00 February 6th, 2015|Higher Education|Comments Off on Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Higher Ed Website Redesign

The Ripple Effect in the Design Process

When I learned to paint, my teacher would always emphasize the importance of working the entire canvas at the same time. A lot of people have the natural inclination to zero in on the small area they are currently working on, and really develop it before working out to the rest of the piece. The problem with this approach is that a lot of time will pass as you work from one end to the canvas to the other, and your style will change with time. You hand will tire and get looser, the colors in your palate may not be mixed quite the same way, and you may take a break here and there and when you return to your painting, your flow is just not quite the same. So what happens is, you get inconsistencies in style and feel across the canvas leading to a touch of disharmony. The solution to this is to work the canvas in it’s entirety from corner to corner at the same time. Lay in big chunks of underpainting, scatter those accent colors and highlights across the whole piece as needed when you have that perfect hue at hand, and keep your stroke styles consistent across the piece. This also allows you to plan out the space and layout better since you start to block in all the elements at the same time. As you work the canvas, you may add touches of a color in one area, and find that you need to carry that color across the whole painting in spots as needed to create unity and harmony.

ripple web design

A similar phenomenon happens during the design phase for websites. I like to call it “the ripple effect”. Typically you have a starting design that then goes through iterations. Often these iterations are based on client requests for design changes. Perhaps that blue was not quite right, and they want it to be more of an indigo. Maybe their marketing team has decided to revamp the logo towards the end of the homepage design process. All these design requests may seem like simple isolated changes, but they have a ripple effect that creates a need to change elements across the whole site design. This is because, just like the canvas, the design needs to be worked from corner to corner at the same time in order to ensure balance, harmony, and to maintain an appropriate visual hierarchy between elements. That simple header background color change may then effect the color of the navigation elements and the border and gradients of a newsletter sign-up box. Then subsequently, the footer navigation links will need to be changed for consistency. Perhaps that new logo is a more subtle and diffused style, and now everything else on the page seems to overpower it. The only solution is to take the elements on the page down a notch so that the logo doesn’t get lost.

It’s important for people to be open to these ripple effect changes throughout the design process and to also consider how their design change requests may impact the whole of the design. Because they have such a large impact the design, it is important to nail down things like your logo design and color palates early on in the design process to ensure that their style is carried over into all the elements throughout the site.

 

By | 2016-04-22T15:39:58+00:00 April 15th, 2014|Web Development, Creative Design|1 Comment

How To Make The Most Out Of Your Web Design

I spend a lot of time inside and outside of work studying design. I think it gets to a point for everyone where design becomes difficult to ignore, as it influences our every day decisions. It’s important to understand design elements and how they not only affect you on a day to day basis, but your customers as well. You can ask yourself the following questions:

How does my target audience perceive my brand?

Does my website’s design go hand in hand with my content?

What kind of experiences are users having when they land on my website?

Is my design making an emotional connection with my customers?

Because websites are so multi-dimensional, there is no one way to answer these questions. It’s an ever changing industry and with new technology comes updates on how we approach design. Lucky for you, Beacon has been in the industry for 16 years. We love answering these questions because these are the questions you have to ask to get to a successfully designed website.

Since being in the website industry, I’ve had the opportunity to wear many hats. This has helped me approach website design and development from every angle with all considerations in mind. Below I have listed a few elements to consider when designs a website.

 

User Experience

  • A beginners guide to UI design. Read more.
  • How to beat the paradox of choice in UI design. Read more.

Fonts

Colors

  • An introduction to color theory for web designers. Read more.
  • How to get a professional look with color. Read more.
  • Five web design colors that encourage visitors to click that subscribe button. Read more.

Images

  • How to use images effectively in websites. Read more.
  • How to use photography in web design. Read more.

And finally…

 

In today’s world, your website is one of your most vital marketing tools. If you would like to find out more about how redesigning your website can push your business forward, let us know!

By | 2017-08-15T15:50:26+00:00 April 11th, 2014|Cascade CMS|1 Comment

Is Flat Design For You?

As technology and the familiarity with it grows, designers and developers are now more than ever trying to enhance the website design world. Inevitably, this leads to countless passing trends that come and go much like any design industry. Which leaves us begging the question, how do we know what is more than just a trend and does it fit our website needs?

Flat design has been a fairly controversial topic since the beginning. Industry leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all jumped on board lending us to believe there may be something more to this. So how can flat design benefit your site?

Flat Design Is Responsive Friendly

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Image credit to: www.wpexplorer.com/writer-blog-wordpress-theme

More and more we are finding people are using smartphones as a replacement for their computers. In 2012, more tablets and smartphones were purchased than computers. Because of this, responsive websites have now become a necessity. With the simplistic nature of flat design sizing elements down to fit a mobile device or tablet becomes that much easier. By using a lot of white space and large buttons flat design becomes very flexible when considering responsive website.

 

Flat Design Is Content Friendly

The mystery of, “What is more important? Content? Or Design?” has been solved. The answer is neither. Both equally important. Design attracts your users, but your content keeps them on your site. So why would you not leverage your design to showcase your content? Flat design’s clean and minimal layouts provide an environment that allows your content to stand out. Content communicated in a simple and clear manner is more easily digested by the user.

 

 Flat Design is User Friendly

Although minimal, flat design has a high level of focus on aesthetics generally utilizing bright colors and large imagery. This coupled with the elimination of borders and shadows entices the user’s eye to flow across your site with ease. Flat design strips down to the most basic form of design that can be appreciated by anyone.

The goal for any website design is to carry the message of your business across to the user. Your design should always highlight the content and focus on the user’s experience. Here at Beacon, we are constantly researching design trends and movements to ensure that our client’s websites are ahead of their time and solidified as legitimate marketing tools.

 

By | 2016-11-18T14:23:20+00:00 November 25th, 2013|Web Development|Comments Off on Is Flat Design For You?

Progressive Enhancement

I had the privilege of attending “An Event Apart” in Austin, TX this week and feel like I have come home with an abundance of knowledge about leading practices in web development. This conference is an educational session for those passionate about standards-based web design and this year focused heavily on best practices for our multi-device world. Many developers are facing the challenges of 1000s of screen sizes and the multitude of ways people can now access the websites we create. With new devices coming out daily plus fascinating new ways to enhance sites visually and interactively, we sometimes forget that many people are still using older slower browser and devices. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be designing our sites without all the bells and whistles, but we cannot forgot about the other users. At the conference, one topic in general really helped explain how we create amazing sites without leaving anyone out. Progressive enhancement!

What is Progressive Enhancement?

“Progressive enhancement is a strategy for web design that emphasizes accessibility, semantic HTML markup, and external stylesheet and scripting technologies. Progressive enhancement uses web technologies in a layered fashion that allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or Internet connection, while also providing an enhanced version of the page to those with more advanced browser software or greater bandwidth.”

Basically, progressive enhancement allows everyone, no matter what their browser or internet connection may be, to access a web page and view the basic content and functionality. If you are running a more advanced browser or better bandwidth, you will get the enhanced version of the page.

Progressive Enhancement vs. Graceful Degradation

Both graceful degradation and progress enhancement focus on how a site works in all browsers and devices. The focus and how it affects the workflow is the key between these two methods.

graceful

For many years, web designers have been using the principle of graceful degradation to make sure users in older browsers can at least see the content on a site, even if it doesn’t look exactly like the design intended. It allows designers and developers to focus on building the website for the most advanced/capable browsers. Using this method leaves older browsers with poor, but passable experience.

progressive

Rather than focusing on browser technology and support, we can focus on the content and how the user will see this content no matter what they are on. The content of your site is the most important element, it’s what brings users to your site and should always be first priority.

So how does Progressive Enhancement work?

It’s best to think of progressive enhancement as different layers. We couldn’t build a home without a solid foundation, the same goes for our websites. Each layer builds on the previous to improve the interactivity on the website without losing a solid functional base.

Content first! Start with your content, marked up in rich, semantic HTML. Having well-thought-out HTML has the advantage of not needing presentation layers to make sense. This also means screen readers, search engine spiders and those on basic mobile browsers will be able to view your content without any distracting formatting issues.

Visual Enhancements (CSS) Once your base HTML and content is ready, you are ready for the visual enhancement layer, CSS.  The majority of desktop and mobile browsers support CSS, though not all support CSS3. The CSS should enhance the content and make the overall user experience better.

Interaction (JavaScript) The final layer of our web site is JavaScript and should be handled last. JavaScript can contribute so much to the usability and user experience of a website. It has revolutionized the way sites work and how we do things online. However, your website should always work without JS and there should be an HTML or server-side scripting alternative. While most web users have JS enabled, there are still some cases where JS is undesirable and not every mobile browser or screen reader has good support for it.

Once you understand progressive enhancement, the concept of it makes sense and is easy to do. We build for the very basic structure and then build out so that no matter what device or speed someone is viewing the site at, they will always be presented with what is important. The content!

 

Keana Lynch
Keana Lynch is the Director of UX Design & Development at Beacon where she has provided leadership and consultation for over 35 Higher Education projects. She specializes in the analysis, design, and implementation of websites. Keana is very passionate about design and development strategies focused on user experience, accessibility, multi-device interactions, and technical best practices. Outside of work Keana enjoys spending time with her three dogs, hiking, kayaking and volunteering with local animal rescue groups.
By | 2017-08-11T16:23:44+00:00 October 4th, 2013|Web Development|2 Comments

Redesigning Without Frustrating Your Users

Your users rely on your website to get things done. They are used to doing it a certain way. So when things change, people get frustrated. Nevertheless, change is necessary. So the job of your web design and development team is to try to make the changes go over as smoothly as possible.

Communicate with Your Users

Testing is a valuable tool to help you figure out where the problem areas of your website are. Gathering information by polling or asking your users to give their feedback can be incredibly valuable. But, keep in mind that sometimes what a user tells you about their experience with your site may not exactly match what really happens when they are actually on the site. There may be inconsistencies with a users intent and their action because of the contextual factors involved. Every time someone uses your site, the situation is different and therefore the results are different. Monitoring and using things like Google Analytics metrics will give you facts to compare to your collected empirical data.

Types of Change

Design changes are more immediately noticed, while workflow changes may take time to be detected by your users. Dissatisfaction with design changes may not be enough to keep them from using the site, but if the functionality of the site is compromised users may be discouraged. Therefore it is vital to ensure that any workflow changes will benefit the user in the end. Workflow changes can bring short term user dissatisfaction but valuable long term gain. Ultimately people are able to learn and adapt to the changes within a few days, and as long as the benefits last longer than this relearning period, their experience will ultimately be positive.

When is change necessary?

Change is always necessary when it solves a problem or serves a specific purpose. Ease of use, being the ultimate goal. Increased and varied functionality is only valuable when truly needed. You also need to consider the types of users you are designing for. There is no need to hold back for a small portion of your users, while inhibiting the experience of most of your users. Maintaining core consistencies with your old site, such as keeping things in the same general location and using familiar visual cues, will assist your user with making a smooth transition to your new design.

By | 2017-06-16T13:05:30+00:00 August 9th, 2013|Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on Redesigning Without Frustrating Your Users

GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’

I really was looking for some nice serious techie news to blog about today, but this article was just too irresistible to ignore: GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’.  Despite the hilarious sub-title “JPG and PNG decline to comment“, I really did learn a lot  in the guts of the article.  For example, I didn’t realize that our friend the “GIF” (graphic interchange format) has been around for 25 years (almost as long as me!) and that nearly every Internet browser ever made supports it (and believe me, that’s A LOT of programs, cause we test our sites in most of them).  The acronym has also evolved from a noun to a verb (“Most recently many media outlets were live-GIFing the 2012 presidential  debates.”).  According to the article “it’s the easiest way to share a quick animation.”

And as a completely un-techie side note, who even knew that Oxford Dictionary selected a “USA Word of the Year“???

A GIF of GIF

A GIF of GIF

By | 2016-11-23T10:52:04+00:00 November 16th, 2012|Creative Design|Comments Off on GIF wins Oxford’s ‘Word of the Year’

Greensboro Housing Authority Site Launch

We’re proud to announce the release of the Greensboro Housing Authority redesign!  As always, Beacon was right on-time with our deliverables, which is always our goal.  The client chose a soft launch date of December 1, 2011 because they wanted to show the new site to their Board of Directors at their annual meeting that day.

Their Web site was designed and constructed in-house several years ago, which meant that it was time for a completely new look.  The site also had content that was very out-of-date, so the client took it upon themselves to do a complete rewrite of the content, and restructure the site to be more intuitive.  Also, they wanted to get away from having to update the site by-hand using HTML, and wanted it in a content management system.  Finally, they wanted a new Web hosting partner.

Enter Beacon:

  • We provided them with a brand-new graphical design;
  • Developed it to display perfectly in multiple browsers;
  • Implemented the new site into Cascade Server (content management system) to allow multiple users to update the content with an easy-to-use solution;
  • Incorporated a new search feature;
  • Imported approximately 60 pages of content, including 20 fact sheets about each of their properties;
  • Transferred their Web site to a shared hosting package here at Beacon.

Several Beacon staff members made this project a success:

  • Wendy:  Without much direction from the client, Wendy put together a design that they liked on the first try, which is phenomenal.
  • Stephanie:  She was instrumental in getting the project off the ground, attending the initial meetings and providing meeting notes, the business requirements, and proposed site hierarchy.
  • Zed:  He was thrown into the fire, as this was his first development project here.  He developed the front-end HTML/CSS/jQuery, and implemented the site into Cascade Server (which he picked up on very quickly), and entered most of the content.
  • Tiffany:  Provided assistance and training to Zed.
  • Justin:  Project Management and Cascade Server documentation & training.
  • Beacon’s Technical Support Group (TSG):  And finally, no site hosting transfer is complete without the efforts of TSG, specifically Caleb and William, for setting up the hosting and troubleshooting some DNS issues over a weekend.

This is another high-quality design to add to our portfolio, and another non-profit site we can be proud of.   Thanks to everyone involved!

Before

After

By | 2017-08-15T15:53:10+00:00 December 19th, 2011|Beacon News|Comments Off on Greensboro Housing Authority Site Launch

Backgrounds made easy!

When working on a new web site design, I often have projects where a client is interested in having a nice background pattern or texture as a part of their design. I recently found a great tool that makes background images extremely easy:

http://bgpatterns.com/

With this tool, you can choose a background texture, image pattern, foreground color, and background color. You can adjust the opacity of the image pattern, scale the image pattern to change the amount of spacing between the pattern repeat, and rotate the pattern.

You can preview the background image and continue to tweak it. Once you have the look you want, just click the download button, and you will get repeatable .png.

It’s so easy! I <3 this tool!

By | 2016-06-09T16:50:57+00:00 April 13th, 2011|Web Development, Creative Design|Comments Off on Backgrounds made easy!
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