Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others. –Orson Welles
Ah, the words of the famous American movie actor and producer are quite appropriate for celebs and, yes, websites. There’s no better way to send your website careening down a path of certain doom than failing to create (and enforce) an online Style Guide early on, on that defines your image and enables guests to identify and interact easily with your brand.
Of course, the masters of the print marketing world have for years lived and died by this mantra, making sure that each font size, color choice and paper type are earnestly researched and recorded before ever sending a job to the presses. But, for some reason, many online marketers sometimes venture into the world of the web and mobile sites without putting together a basic rubric for their site. Because it’s much quicker and cheaper to fix or change elements on a website than on a printed piece, the creation of a robust online Style Guide is sometimes skipped or skimped.
Maybe you find yourself in this position. Where do you go from here? How can you get control around an unwieldy website that may be sporting 3 different logo versions, a variety of font sizes and a hodgepodge of photos?
- The Crew Start by organizing a small committee of people invested in your company’s website who care about the quality of the site and the impact it has on user interaction. Read: organized, consistent sites with uniformity mean higher customer involvement and retention, which eventually means more $$.
- The Tasks Once you’ve assembled your little group, begin by looking at the basics. Put members in charge of various areas of the site to evaluate what’s working and what’s not, where the site is consistent and where it falls down. Following are the basic buckets your crew can examine:
- Layout—is it organized? Can users get around easily and achieve their objectives? Does the site feature breadcrumb trails that tell users how they got to the page they are on?
- Copy—is the tone and style audience focused? Does the copy use a lexicon of words that underscore the brand values? Are font types and sizes used consistently, or do they vary? Are grammar and formatting elements presented consistently? For example, if you list hours of operation does one spot say “Monday-Thursday” while another spot lists “Mon-Thu”?
- Images—are the sizes consistent? How about quality? Are photos professional and sharp or fuzzy and grainy?
- Artwork and Logo use—are they consistent? Do colors and themes coordinate across the site?
- Process—how do copy and images make it onto the website? Who is in charge of making updates? Is it one person, or can just anyone make an update?
- The Draft Once the group has done its research, reconvene and put together a document that addresses each section, defining what the standards should be for each. Indicate in detail such things as what artwork is allowed on the site and what is not. Specify the logo size and color. Dictate image sizes, denote font sizes and make arbitrary rules when there is no “right” answer. Assemble all this information into a well-organized document with an easy access Table of Contents.
- The Lifespan After you’ve developed the start to your Style Guide, bear in mind that any good Style Guide is a living, breathing document. A work in progress. Put someone in charge of updating it and as changes take place, empower that person to make judgment calls on future “rulings” regarding what goes on the site.
- The Sheriff Of course, now that you have your Style Guide and someone to update date it regularly, the final, and probably most important, step is to put someone in charge of enforcing the Style Guide on your existing site and on a go forward basis for all new material added to the site. Grab a megaphone and let everyone in your company know that there’s a new website sheriff in town and everyone’s expected to tow the line.
The time you spend researching your site, bringing it up to “code,” and enforcing said code will be well spent. You’ll reap rewards in customer satisfaction with their online experience, website “stickiness,” and even increased revenue.
VP Brand Marketing