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A Quick Introduction to Design Systems8 min read

There are a few things that companies operating in today’s market need to do well, regardless of their primary market, in order to survive and thrive.

The ability to scale quickly, efficiently respond to stimuli such as opportunities and threats and the capability to attract and retain customers can be the differentiators between success and failure.

In many ways, this is what a Design System can achieve and hence its importance.

What is a Design System?

A Design System is a collection of many things. While there is no universally agreed-upon definition, a design system will typically contain

  • Colour schemes
  • Iconography
  • Typography
  • Animation
  • Layouts and presentations
  • Copy
  • Illustrations

More than that, however, a well-executed design system represents many of the fundamental elements that make up a company’s design language. Each of these elements, which we will be covering shortly, should have three attributes by way of rules, constraints, and principles.

Values

As every other endeavour in life, the articulation of values can help us stay on the straight and narrow, can help us make sure we remain consistent and true to our goals. Whether its a one-man army or a team of people, knowing your design values can not only increase efficiency and consistency by acting as a guide of sorts.

Principles

When it comes to making decisions, principles are a tool of the utmost importance. When it comes to design, they can act as a shining beacon directing efforts towards a central theme. This helps ensure that regardless of the person creating the design or the time at which it is creating, it remains coherent with the brand.

Identity

Think of identity as the alphabet which makes up a language (more on this next). In identity, we start to define tangible things such as colours, fonts, illustrations and so forth. The important thing here is coherence with the values and principles so that things start tying in together instead of being standalone components.

Language

In language, we start laying down the rules to how the elements identified in the identity section are to be used. Think of this as the grammar to the alphabet defined in the identity language.

Components

In components, we can start to look at how the elements listed identity come together, of course, using language guidelines as to what can be done and how. Here the behaviour should also be specified in accordance with the values and principles defined within the system.

Patterns

Patterns are the instructions which allow us to string components together. Whether you’re building a product, a website, designing marketing collateral, or anything in between, patterns ensure consistency and brand recognition. After all, humans are inherently good at recognising patterns!.

Best practices

Truth be told, there are usually more ways than one to accomplish a given task. In best practices, we identify that one way we know works best for us, This can help you be more agile and responsive as well as ensure that all processes can work together as smoothly as possible.

Why do you need one?

Discussing what goes in a Design System is all well and good but unless this translates to real-world value, it can be hard to get onboard. After all, we all have to deal with finite resources and unless there is tangible value, it can be difficult to justify.

Consistency

The more consistent you are with your branding and products/services, the more customers will trust you. As we know very well, trust is one of the building blocks to fostering profitable relationships in any industry you might be working in.

Quality

Once you have all of the details nailed down, it will be far easier to produce quality designs day in, day out. With guidelines readily available for those involved in design processes, you can ensure high-quality output every time.

Communication

Whether you work with agencies, freelancers, or have your own team, communicating a design language can be very difficult without something to refer to. A design system can provide a reference point to make sure everyone is on the same page with far fewer misunderstandings.

Speed/adaptability

In an ever-changing market, speed can be a true differentiator. With everything from guidelines to patterns readily available, Design Systems can help you produce designs faster than ever before – all the while maintaining consistency and quality.

User experience

Great user experience can be a truly remarkable value proposition, drawing in customers and more importantly keeping them. By having a Design System in place, you can dedicate more time to designing a better user experience knowing all visuals are already configured for use.

How to build a design system

If you’re looking to build a design system, congratulations! Once ready, you will be in a far better position to tackle the challenges businesses face today efficiently and decisively. Here are the steps you need to take to ensure a more comprehensive Design System is put in place. Need advice or someone to take care of it for you, get in touch.

Audit

Make sure you take the time to audit what you currently have and start to catalogue it. Also, take the time to understand who needs to be involved in the process and what role they will play.

Design the language

With all elements duly catalogued, it is time to start designing the system. Look at the elements we covered previously and make sure you tick off as many boxes as you can. Remember, this is an iterative process and the most important thing is to get started.

Populate library

Once the framework is in place, it is time to start populating the library with the actual UI components. Make sure they are in a reusable format so that the next time you need to design something, you can do so in a fraction of the time.

Documentation

Lastly, it is important to take the time to document everything – from processes to standards, so that next time you need to update, you can understand why certain decisions were taken as well as help designers and stakeholders make the best use out of the Design System.

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