In a previous post, I questioned whether or not we should exclude a WordPress theme style guide from our themes when releasing them to our customers.

On the one hand, I think that a case can be made that we should exclude them. In short, I said that:

Offering up a style guide that helps users deviate in any way from the core design, the one that’s created from a level of expertise, is something I think isn’t worth creating.

But there’s another side to all of this. Specifically, what if the theme itself is just one component that’s part of an organizations overall brand?

WordPress Theme Style Guides

In the comments of the previous post, Ryan mentions:

I’m not really sure that just a theme by itself needs a style guide. It makes sense to have a style guide for a project as a whole– because it ensures consistency across anything relevant (biz cards, email, website, etc). I see themes more fluid. I think style guides reside at a higher point in the grand scheme of things

And I agree with this.

When I think of a WordPress theme as being just one part of an overall identity, I think of a style guide as being something that’s applied to the theme, to the letter heads, to the stationary, and so on.

In the previous post, you could think of a style guide being generated for customers after the theme has been developed; however, here, it’s more about creating a theme after a style guide has been generated for all print material.

The theme is based on the guide rather than the guide being based off the theme.

You Do Need a Style Guide

To that end, if you’re building a style guide as part of a larger effort, then a style guide is warranted. I think that it serves two purposes though (one no more important than the other):

  1. You have the proper font treatments, color schemes, and “what not to do” when creating the theme.
  2. Others know exactly how to handle material that will be published and created for the site.

I think it’s fair to say that as businesses opt to introduce an online presence, then they have style guides (or may have style guides) that could be suited to print media. And print media doesn’t always do such a great job of translating into digital media.

Sometimes it does, but not all the time.

To that end, one of the problems that could arise is that a theme is based on a style guide that designed for what was once only printed media. When that happens, more often than not, you’re left with a site that looks less than stellar – not necessarily because the style guide itself is bad, but because print doesn’t translate to screen.

As such, I think that the style guide should be updated in one of two ways. Either:

  • Update the style guide so that it becomes slightly more modern for all brand media,
  • Extend the style guide to that it includes how to handle online media

From there, all necessary guardrails are in place to create a cohesive experience between what users see when they get a business card, a letter, and when they visit the web site.

On top of that, when you’re done, who ever is responsible for running and managing the site in-house will have the necessary guides for how to maintain a consistent experience.

Or Maybe You Don’t

Obviously, I’ve already covered this. As such, there’s not really a “definitely yes” or “definitely no” answer. I think that it depends on a number of factors such as:

  • Is the business just getting online?
  • Is the theme being developed first (or later)?
  • Is the style guide for the brand already modern, current, or whatever word you want to use?
  • …and a few more

But really, what I think it comes down to is if you’re building a theme for a client who already has a business or who is attempting to get a business online (that is, a specific use case), or you’re building a theme as a product to be used by many, many people (that is, a general use case).

There’s likely more grey area that I’ve not covered, but that’s my personal take on whether or not we should be including or excluding WordPress theme style guides with the projects that we ship (regardless to whom we ship them).