The design guidelines are concerned with all aspects of historic structures and especially with facades visible from streets. Most often the public views buildings from the street or sidewalk. The fronts of buildings also typically contain the most defining features of the property such as porches, main entrances, and decorative details. The rear of buildings are generally considered more private space and rear elevations offer more flexibility for additions or alterations since they are generally not readily visible due to the building's placement on the lot or screening by landscaping or fences.
Construction at the rear of buildings is preferred when additional living space is required. The guidelines are divided into residential and commercial sections and building elements appear in alphabetical order. Included is information on common rehabilitation questions, recommendations for maintaining the site and setting of historic areas, and guidance for new construction. Photographs of buildings and architectural details in Madison are included to familiarize property owners with typical features and characteristics. Property owners are encouraged to refer to the guidelines when planning or designing new construction projects, planning exterior rehabilitations, and completing everyday maintenance.