The majority of global companies have now changed the way they design digital products by incorporating their own unique, tailored design systems into the mix. Now that more and more companies are beginning to understand the importance of design system implementation, making sure everything within it aligns correctly can be a vital part of your organisation. This leads to several key aspects that you will need to understand how to create a design system that works for you, as well as answering the first important question: what is the purpose of a design system?
What Is a Design System?
Essentially, a brand design system is an all-encompassing set of rules for your visual identity. This will include everything from style guidelines, principles, patterns, usage guidance and components that make up the visual and contextual language for a user’s digital experience. A well-conceived thought out design system will provide a convenient, centralised, and ever-evolving map of a brand’s known product territories whilst providing a clear set of directional pointers that will help your company to explore new regions with a proven template.
Many organisations have what they consider to be a design system, but these collections typically amount to no more than a group of elements and code snippets. While a style guide or pattern library can be a starting point for a design system, they are not the only components. It’s important to understand the fundamentals of a design system and the best way to implement one into your organisation, something we will dive into in this article to ensure you are given the best possibility to drive future success.
Why Should a Brand Create a Design System?
Firstly, you may be asking yourself, why do we need to create a design system to begin with? The overall impact of a good design system will extend far beyond just aiding internal processes.
Essentially, the core element of a design system is usually a library of UI components and these UI elements will also have their representation implemented in code form. A design system is sometimes referred to as the single source of truth for the team involved in product creation. This is due to the fact that it allows teams to design, develop and maintain the quality of the product easily, effectively and efficiently because the core elements are already in place. With a design system in place, you will be able to streamline many aspects of product creation systems which is why more and more brands are starting to implement this key feature.
The Benefits of a Design System
Creating a design system sounds like it could be a lot of work however, there are many benefits that make the system worth preparing and implementing to a full extent. The main benefits of which include:
• Improved Consistency. With a design system in place, developers are able to implement consistent UI in a much simpler manner. By allowing developers to view a particular page as a set of individual components, they will be able to understand the component usage across multiple pages and therefore achieving consistency will be a much simpler process and overall errors will be cut down.
• Higher Quality. Building on the back of improving consistency, this will create the impression of higher quality across your brand and instil confidence within potential users and consumers. QA Specialists will easily monitor the implemented design with Design System documentation. Inconsistency should appear rarely.
• Better Communication Between Teams. When the developer and the designer discuss the page, all vocabulary and terminology will be prearranged and understood meaning the possibility for miscommunication or a lack of understanding will be greatly reduced. Due to these processes already being in place, clear, concise phrases such as ‘Primary Button’ and ‘Secondary Button’ will clarify any potential pitfalls due to the terminology as aspects getting lost in translation will be a rarer occurrence. Mistakes because of misunderstandings will be all but erased due to the design system whilst it will also allow designers to make better overall decisions during the process due to the clarity of direction.
• Focus More on UX and Less On Visuals – Using UI Library means you do not have to decipher each time what the specifics of the appearance of the input field should be. It has already been defined thoroughly within the design system. Composing new pages featuring them is now simpler and you will be able to focus on offering greater usability and enjoyable experiences which will create a greater connection between your brand and the users.
• Reduces Repetition. When creating a design system, you will take an inventory of all of your business’s design components. They will be organised, and duplicates will be removed. Then, these assets will be ready and available whenever someone needs them. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it has been done time and time again. Team members can build on what has already been established.
Key Steps to Build a Design System
When building a design system, it makes sense to experiment with initial UI elements or general mockups and concepts. Start big and gradually work towards the smaller elements. Figure out colours, fonts, and shapes before moving to buttons, inputs, checkboxes and similar aspects. Once these have been done, navigation bars, side menus and everything else will help form page templates, essentially a unified UI kit for your system.
All the minutiae of a design system coupled with the overwhelming size of the concept can be daunting. It is hard to imagine how many hours of work it will take to create one however many of the great teams have made their systems public. As a result of this, you can learn good practices for creating a design system based on existing examples from the likes of:
• Material Design – This is one of the most popular systems and has been shaped over many years. Evidence of its quality comes from the fact it is used not only by Google Team but also by many creators of Android and Web Apps on the market.
• Atlassian Design System – One of the most complete design systems on the market used in real products made by Atlassian specialising in end-to-end design language to create straightforward user experiences.
• Polaris – A design system made by Shopify which uses components as building blocks as you develop new products pieces to create meaningful experiences for your users.
How Can Brands Promote Their Design System Across Their Products?
Design systems should not be seen as limiting, but rather liberating. Whether you want to follow minimalist web design trends or forge your own path, the right design system can easily be promoted across your products. Some design system examples from a brand that does this effectively is AirBnB.
The reason that AirBnb is such a high-quality and helpful design system example is that it works hand in hand with the organisation’s simple product design. The simplicity of their system emphasises how they are taking the hassle and stress out of booking somewhere to stay. Through being clear, concise and restrained they have built a universally understandable platform that aids a user experience that is both unified and iconic. This design system has helped form the visual language of the brand which can be easily understood by all their users.
A fully implemented design system is no longer a pipe dream from the future as these deliverables now operate in many large scale projects. If you are not already doing so, 2020 should be the year that you begin implementing one of your own as it’s the next natural step for many businesses when looking to streamline operations. The usage of a design system can save dozens of extra hours whilst a unified language and style enables you to provide a consistent customer experience. It provides a foundation for new designers on which to build, offering a simple guide for them containing all your brand’s components and guidelines. Similar to your brand itself, a design system will require many iterations and constant evolution in order to mirror the growth and development of the company itself. By achieving this, you will be able to offer your users a seamless, positive interaction for many years to come.
David is a creative content writer for the London based creative design agency Appnova who specialise in luxury website design, bespoke digital marketing strategies and eCommerce solutions.