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Style Guidance June 14th, 2015

Guidance noun 1. the act or function of guiding; leadership; direction. 2. advice or counseling, especially that provided for students choosing a course of study or preparing for a vocation.

Overly prescriptive style guides - digital or other - are today unable to define the consistency they once did for channels and demand that evolve with increasing pace.

Style guides that empower are those that lightly describe not prescribe the outcome. They are flexible and succinct rather than ridged and detailed. They allow solutions to develop and borrow from what has gone before acknowledging that each situation is unique and requires a level of timely and appropriate design to respond to the need.

Formed of multiple meaningful parts supporting the experience planner, the visual designer and equally valuable to the developer writing presentational code. Where all refer to the principles outlined in the guidance magic can and does happen.

Rules and protocols are put in place – often for very good reasons. Rules with the purpose of supporting (programme) governance, can inappropriately applied become a bind, incapable of evolving to capitalise on emerging market opportunities.

Worst still unless guidance exists as a living breathing artefact it can lock delivery into antiquated methods, unable to benefit from evolving techniques, proven practices and optimisations.

This is not a constraint that any business especially a digital one should risk working within.

A more fundamental result is without guidance there’s no need for leaders to emerge as responsibility is continually deferred into the governance control system.

Guidance however requires the presence of a lead, leader or better still a team empowered to deliver change in response to evolving customer need and market circumstances.

Guidance allows for continual improvement and optimisation. It allows individuals to develop with a clear long term goal of making things better rather than working within no longer relevant boundaries.

Environments where guidance proliferates through strong leadership benefit all. Business keeps pace with customer expectations. Tight knit teams built on trust and respect form and continually outperform targets and expectations. However, the most important of all, individuals strive for betterment as glass ceilings between themselves and their aspirations are unable to exist.

As brands morph, marketing activity responds, functionality and content start to evolve from the basic to more complex most pre-canned design definitions start to flounder and become inadequate.

The brand style guide of old, impressive as it was, in a digital context has no longer the same value or responsibility.

For now, at least, style guidance holds the most opportunity for managing digital estates that are expected to sprawl, merge, migrate and transform according to the developing audience preference and need.

To maintain relevance the guide itself needs to be part of the delivery value chain. To be part of this it needs to be a derivative of or better still the reference that development and test teams refer. It’s unable to exist as a retrospective item requiring additional maintenance and support.

For this to be a possibility the guidance should take the form of the eventual medium and deliver against multiple use case. Where best incorporated requires some thought. Borrowing from the concept of a development SDK it can provide the basis to build from a common extensible base.

Supporting teams with the space to create such guidance will inevitably create a void in which the team operates therefore delivering far beyond any set agenda. Having been freed from the monotony of common tasks that result in inefficiency so often seen in large organisations, together we work smarter not harder.

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