What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘design system’? Perhaps things like ‘scale,’ ‘consistency,’ or ‘efficiency.’ Indeed, all these things are important when it comes to design, and design systems help teams apply all these attributes by providing a complete set of standards to guide and manage design at scale, using reusable components and patterns. To put it simply, design systems help teams work smarter rather than harder.
But what exactly is a Design System, and how does it work?
By definition, a design system is the collection of components, and the standards that guide these components as to how they should work together in a consistent environment. Similar to a Style Guide, which brings together base-level UI elements such as color, typography, and form elements, a Design System extends beyond that to cover a multitude of aspects, as well as the overall thought process of the system and how all the pieces come together to create a functional interface. It ensures that teams are aligned and have clear direction, thus allowing for a seamless user experience.
In other words, a design system aims to bring order to a process that may otherwise end up in chaos.
There are 5 key elements to a successful and effective design system:
Principles: this is an agreed-upon framework for decision-making that aligns with a company’s brand and vision
Foundations: these provide guidance on everything from color and typography, to motion and illustrations
Components: these are the building blocks used to create user interfaces, and cover everything from UI controls to complex elements like tables
Guidelines: these guide designers on when and how to use certain components, and writers on which words to use or avoid
Resources: these provide designers and developers access to the foundations, components, and guidelines through UI kits, plug-ins, and design tokens
Why should I use a Design System?
Having a design system in place can be helpful for designers and UI engineers who work on multiple products and often need to re-create or duplicate work done by other teams. Rather than having to rebuild specific code each time, they can use the design system as a living, constantly-evolving guide, which improves the development process and removes the guesswork from designing and building user interfaces. This means that teams no longer need to focus on how things should look or function, and that frees up time to be creative and innovative.
What are the benefits of a Design System?
One of the key principles of good design and user experience is consistency. A design that is consistent is also intuitive, predictable, and easy to navigate. This includes visual consistency, whereby all elements and components look uniform in terms of size, color, font, etc, which allows users to become familiar with a product; functional consistency, which means that all outcomes of an application should function in the same way to ensure predictability and familiarity for users; internal consistency, that allows new pages to be introduced without changing the existing rules; and external consistency, which keeps things familiar across different platforms, systems or products.
In a project’s development process, having to build every component from scratch takes up a lot of time. By creating a unified design system, teams can simply utilize existing components without worrying about underlying specifications. As all team members will have access to documentation of which components they need to use, the entire organization is on the same page and teams can move faster, communicate better, and ultimately, update and release new products much faster.
The design process is a large and complicated endeavor, one that involves different teams joining the production pipeline at different intervals. It is therefore imperative that everyone understands what they’re working on, and they all have the same resources on hand. A design system helps to provide everyone with the right documentation to make sure they are all on the same page, fostering collaboration across the project, and ensuring shared language, a more organized work flow, and more efficient and effective collaboration across the board.
In simple terms, design and development debt is all the good design and development concepts or solutions that were skipped or sidelined in an effort to reach short term goals, rather than building for the long run. This can lead to unused or obsolete components that would require more frequent maintenance, and ultimately end up a burden that stands in the way of rapid development. By utilizing the unified language of a design system, teams would build general components that could be easily updated and maintained, and reused across various applications, thus reducing technical overhead.
By setting out a framework of guidelines for visuals, tone, and all other properties that make up the final product, design systems help create a consistent feeling and identity that users can understand and relate to. This streamlined process leads to more impactful brands, a better experiences for the people using your products, and a deeper connection between the two.
Have you put a design system in place yet?
A design system is a fundamental aspect of your brand. In fact, it picks up where your brand guidelines leave off. If you feel overwhelmed at the daunting task of creating a design system, we can help coach you through the process of building your own unique system that works for you and your company by offering the tools and feedback you need to be successful. We’re certain that with the right design system, you can strengthen your team and make a positive impact on your brand.