by Barb Conway
You’ve selected a new content management system (CMS) for your Web site and you’re ready to start implementing it. One of the things you should really think about at this point is how to make sure all of your pages maintain a consistent style. Given free reign, everyone who sets up new pages and loads content could find a different way to do it–unless you’ve given them clear guidelines.
To some extent, CMS page templates will determine the overall layout and specific style elements, but most CMS tools allow page authors a certain amount of flexibility regarding formatting fonts and inserting graphics. This is why it’s important to have a style guide that provides direction in all of these gray areas.
The keys to developing an effective style guide are simple, but important to keep in mind:
Develop and distribute your style guide early
Determine which elements in each template could be open to interpretation and state your rules for these in as much detail as possible. Ideally, the style guide will be distributed before any content is loaded…if not, a lot of time can be wasted re-working the pages. Make sure everyone with authoring permission gets a copy–and uses it.
Be as specific as possible
The more detailed you can be, the less chance you have of someone misinterpreting your style guide. As a test, ask someone unfamiliar with the guide to build sample pages using it. You’ll quickly find out if you’ve provided enough detail.
Include visual examples
Wherever possible, insert screen grabs or links to pages with examples of the correct style. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Keep it up to date
Make updates as often as necessary, including when new page templates are created or when you see new issues finding their way into pages. As hard as you try, you won’t be able to identify all of the style issues that will ultimately need to be addressed when you’re creating the first version of your style guide. People will constantly surprise you with new ways to be inconsistent. Add these elements to your style guide as they arise.
Using a CMS style guide that follows these basic tips will not only keep your site looking professional, but will also save your organization the time and effort required to update pages that were not loaded correctly the first time around.
If you have a CMS style guide success story or additional tips you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them.
User Experience Lead
Flair Interactive Services Inc.