What are Style Tiles?

Style Tiles are a design deliverable consisting of fonts, colors and interface elements that communicate the essence of a visual brand for the web.

They help form a common visual language between the designers and the stakeholders and provide a catalyst for discussions around the preferences and goals of the client.

Style Tiles are similar to the paint chips and fabric swatches an interior designer gets approval on before designing a room.
An interior designer doesn't design three different rooms for a client at the first kick-off meeting, so why do Web designers design three different webpage mockups?

When to use Style Tiles?

Style tiles are for when a moodboard is too vague and a comp is too literal. Style tiles establish a direct connection with actual interface elements without defining layout. They work well for clients who have established brands and need them to translate smoothly to the web. Whereas the word “mood” is often associated with brand and identity design, the word “style” was chosen to mirror “cascading stylesheets” and reinforce that Style Tiles are specific to Web design.

Visual Design Deliverable Fidelity Scale a graphic comparing moodboards, style tiles and mockups a graphic comparing moodboards, style tiles and mockups

How to use Style Tiles?

  1. Listen

    It seems simple, but it is so easy to come out of the gate telling your client what you think they need. Your clients hold an invaluable amount of information, all you need to do is listen.

    Have a design kickoff meeting

    Designers should be in every meeting. Be prepared. Have the stakeholders complete a survey before the meeting or have everyone answer questions together.

    Ask questions

    Whether you give them to stakeholders before a meeting or during it, create a survey of questions tailored for them. Then, distribute the survey, have the stakeholders fill it out, and aggregate the answers.

    Resources for asking Questions:

    illustration of a man holding a cup to a door
  2. Interpret

    Aggregate adjectives from the answer process, identify themes and sort similarities.

    illustration of a patient explaining the concept of an apple to a doctor

    Break down Client Feedback

    Interpret how the adjectives and themes you discovered translate into design principles such as balance and emphasis. That will help you make choices about how to use the elements of design. The final goal is to provide the right subtle visual cues that guide human’s subconscious assumptions towards the desired adjectives and themes.

    Elements of design

    • Line
    • Color
    • Shape
    • Form
    • Pattern
    • Space
    • Texture

    Principles of design

    • Unity
    • Harmony
    • Balance
    • Rhythm
    • Emphasis
  3. Define a Visual Language

    This is the actual process of composing the style tile. Determine themes from the aggregated adjectives and begin to match them up with styles. The Style Tiles give the client a point of reference to determine if you both are on the same page.

    illustration of a person pasting design elements up on a billboard
  4. Iterate

    Making changes in style out of the context of layout takes less time and allows you to work faster.Presenting multiple tiles gives you information to work with that can influence the evolution of a tile.

    Human Nature

    It's human nature to combine options; combining Style Tiles fosters a process that allows for an evolution of stylistic elements without compromising the design goals. Iterating on Style Tiles is an easier and more direct way of refining a visual design, making them a great option for getting to the final goal faster.

    Use Style Tiles when you need the following:

    • Discussion over “Visual Language”
    • Faster Revisions
    • Changes that need to happen outside of or in parallel with UX
    illustration of circular iteration with design comps

Examples

The Washington Examiner 2012 Campaign Site
Design by Phase2 Technology
Check out the full case study

Responsive Design and Style Tiles

Ethan Marcotte refers to static comps during the responsive design process as a “catalog of assumptions” Style Tiles are the perfect complement to that catalog, whether it be in place of comps or to reinforce visual themes. Style Tiles don't imply dimensions nor device; only that the design will be digital.

In addition to Style Tiles, “Component Style Guides” can help with carrying a particular style through specific functionality without designing full web “pages.” These guides are very helpful for responsive designs across a wide number of devices and for implementing design systems for a CMS platform. Yesenia Perez-Cruz has a great article about Component Style Guides at http://cognition.happycog.com/article/sweet-systems.