The world of modern business doesn’t tolerate reinventing the wheel, the steel, and hot water, especially when modularity — a very reliable principle that breeds consistency and productivity — has become a tangible standard for practically every system that exists today.
The value of modularity extends to design systems, where it has become standard practice to create digital products in a modular fashion, enabling scalability during development and easier maintenance during the product’s life cycle. What exactly are design systems, and how do these organized systems work?
What Is a Design System?
A design system is a set of functional reusable components and patterns used by product teams to produce a consistent user experience (UX design) governed by defined design principles across various products.
Design systems serve as a foundation of the universal design philosophy for an entire business, a single source of truth that guides product development using a single design language.
Design systems are usually built upon design principles, which relate to UI designs, and design vision, which usually explains the overall goal of the product design. In addition, these systems, which are a documented set of components and styles used in product design, usually include the implementation plans of the same.
A Simplified Explanation
Frost’s atomic design foundation is an understanding of user interface (UI) components, which are compared to atoms, the fundamental building units of matter. UI components can be used to build a digital product’s screens and, eventually, a full-fledged design system.
The combination of UI components creates molecules, forming the tissue of visual design. These “tissue samples” are then used to create the templates, which later become product pages.
Design System Roadmap
Here are the key steps to creating and building a design system:
Revise and Audit Your Visuals
Revising and auditing your existing visual UI elements is the first step toward building a design system, whether it’s an app, a website, or another digital product. Taking stock of the CSS component library you’re employing, and the aesthetic attributes of the elements will help you determine how difficult this approach will be.
Design System Language and Thinking
A design system’s visual language is its foundation, made up of the different design components you’ll employ to build your digital product. Your visual design language is divided into four categories, and each of these design aspects should be considered in every component on the screen.
The most commonly used colors in design systems are one to three primary colors that symbolize your brand. You may want to employ different tints and shades to give your design system team a wide range of possible design patterns.
Most design systems use only two fonts: one for headings and one for text body or body material. A monospace typeface is reserved for code snippets. You want to avoid overloading and misleading your users, so it’s best to keep things as simple as possible.
Reduce the number of fonts you employ; it’s not only a good typographic design decision, but also reduces performance concerns caused by too many online fonts.
Sizing and Spacing
The design system you use becomes more aesthetically pleasing when you strike a balance between spacing and sizing of UI design. Due to its use in iOS and Android platforms’ standards, ICO size formats, and even the standard browser font size, a 4-based scale is becoming more prominent as the recommended scale.
When it comes to imagery, the key to successful design is having clearly carved out style guides for graphics, icons, and image formats.
Create UI Pattern Library
Unlike the previous visual inspections (which audited aesthetic attributes of your design pieces), this phase examines the actual components of your UI. First, gather all of the components of your UI that are currently in production. This includes all buttons, forms, modals, and images. Next, merge and remove what isn’t required and necessitated by your design system.
Document Elements and Components
Documenting elements and components within your design system is crucial, as it contains information about the element/components’ nature and use-case. In addition, having a well-documented pattern library will increase your team member’s workflow, increasing the effectiveness of your design process.
What Should a Design System Contain?
There are two main components a design system should contain:
Design System Repository
Repositories usually contain a style guide, a component library, and a pattern library.
- Style guides — These offer specific implementation rules, visual references, and design concepts for producing interfaces and other design deliverables. These mostly center on branding, including colors, logos, and typography, but may also provide content guidelines — which can be implemented into a component library for context-sensitive guidance.
- Component libraries — These hold preset, reusable UI elements designers and developers use to build certain aspects of the UI. Unfortunately, creating such libraries is a time-consuming and costly process.
- Pattern libraries — Though used synonymously with “component libraries,” is a specific term, as there are notable differences between the two libraries. For example, unlike component libraries, which contain individual UI elements, pattern libraries contain sets of UI-element groups or layouts.
Design System Team
A design system is only as good as the team that runs and maintains it. Design systems require ongoing maintenance to avoid becoming obsolete, outmoded, or overburdened with redundant inputs, entries, or submissions. The size of your team should reflect the size of your design system — the larger the system, the larger the team maintaining it.
Benefits of Design Systems
Design systems offer several benefits, and here’s why anyone should invest time and effort into building one:
- Consistency — Consistency is one of the most important aspects of good design and UX. A consistent design is intuitive, logical, and easy to follow. Front-end consistency includes consistent visuals, functionality, and accessibility, while consistency at the back-end allows for faster web design prototyping.
- Reduced Building Time — Consistency within the system design often leads to faster development. Building a system is time-consuming, but it’s an investment toward long-term benefits. Having reusable and well-cataloged elements makes prototyping much faster, cutting down the building time.
- Unites Everyone — A well-documented and maintained design system allows different teams joining the product pipeline to understand the task and hand and available resources. Instead of having individual team members “reinventing hot water,” a design system provides everyone with the same documentation, resources, and guidelines.
- Promotes Innovation — Though using predetermined elements within a design sounds like an innovation-killer, design systems actually encourage innovation. They eliminate the need to create everything from scratch, allowing team members more freedom to invest their time into advancing UI and UX through innovation.
Design systems are composed of several different components, patterns, and guidelines that help optimize your team’s design effort. However, they’re still designed and managed by people.
If you’re interested to learn more about design systems, UI and UX development, and digital transformation, contact Anais Digital and book a meeting with one of their design experts.