As firms across globe continue to invest in digital transformations, they are encountering a need to accelerate their product-development lifecycle. Customers, hungry for innovation and an engaging experience, are forcing enterprises to speak the same language as customers while maintaining consistency across touchpoints. Designing products in this manner, and with velocity, is all about scaling. Hence, it’s critical for firms to identify the partners, strategies and tools that can help them implement their digital strategy.
A Design System is one such resource. Design Systems have been defined many ways: a collection of visual assets, a pattern library, and a CSS Framework are the most common. However it’s defined, a Design System is collection of related yet independent components that can improve product-development efficiencies and help enable a great customer experience.
For example, consider a button on a website or app. On its own, a button is an independent component that has its own color scheme for different states, typography and interaction styles. It can be an integral part of other components like a login screen, error message window or many more. It can also be used as a part of a page with links to other pages, hence its correlation with different reusable components throughout the customer journey. Maintaining consistency of these components across touchpoints, and doing so efficiently, can make the customer experience, and the developer’s, much more rewarding.
What are the benefits of a Design System?
Design Systems are a Language. Product Is a Conversation.
– Marcin Treder
Where can I find the icons?
What is the padding I need around a table cell?
What is the spacing between buttons?
Having a Design System in place acts a savior. It closes the gap between the designers and UI engineers who work on multiple products and often re-create or duplicate work done by other teams. Designer and Developer communication is important to improve project workflow, as it helps save time and money. It can also improve consistency across platforms, build more-intuitive products, and allow designers and engineers to focus on addressing bigger problems.
Design Systems are the single source of truth for your product experience. An ideal design system is built with reusable components and guided by certain principles, not a prescriptive manual of how each page or screen will look. To speed-up the design and development process, it needs to be Balanced, Consistent and Scalable. When both designers and developers use the same available component, team productivity increases. It also becomes very easy for teams to create a delightful customer experience across different products and to scale their efforts across various platforms.
Common components of a design system include:
How to Build a Design System
Creating a design system is not an overnight task or a timebound project. It is also never truly finished due to its ever-evolving nature and the need for ongoing maintenance. To begin, the team responsible for building the Design System requires buy-in from the proper stakeholders, most of whom will need to see a few quantitative methods to justify the investment. Design systems help organizations experience a positive shift in their product-development timeline, not to mention the elimination of design and technical debt and code redundancy. These all offer opportunities to identify quantifiable metrics to help justify creation of a Design System.
Designing a stable and efficient Design System needs cross-functional collaboration. in a large organization, the team consists of UI Designers, Developers, UX Designers/Researchers/Accessibility Experts, and Content Strategists/Writers, all of whom are managed by a Design Project Manager. The design team should collect input about the project goals, technology stack, roadmap, high-level timeline, and prioritization of various tasks through requirement-gathering workshops. Once the minimum viable product (MVP) is ready, the team identifies a pilot project to test the Design System’s effectiveness and make amendments based on feedback the team receives during the MVP rollout.
Constantly evolving, a Design System goes through many challenges, though scaling it through a constant feedback loop helps minimize them. Teams can also overcome hurdles by having clear and precise documentation, building platform-agnostic components, constantly checking the component performance, and testing the components across multiple devices.
Architecting the UI pattern library can also be considered a challenge. As a solution, following the Atomic Design approach can help. The basic design elements of Atomic Design, first coined by Brad Frost, primarily consist of 3 elements: Atoms, Molecules, and Organisms. When stitched together, the design elements ensure consistency and allow unlimited scalability for the Design System.
Atoms are the basic building blocks of matter, with distinct properties that can’t be broken down further without losing their meaning. To add value and be useful, they need to pair-up like toy blocks or puzzle pieces. In a Design System sense, fonts, buttons, input fields, links, colors and typography are all independent components (or atoms) that become useful only when they are assembled together.
Molecules are groups of elements (or atoms) that function together as a unit. In a Design System, molecules can be any number of elements ranging from question texts and confirmation buttons to search functionality with a form element and button.
Organisms are groups of molecules and atoms bound together to form a more sophisticated structure.. Applied to a Design System, this could be a unique section of an interface, such as a date picker that contains form elements, text, numbers, styles, calculations, navigation buttons etc.
A group of Organisms working together forms a Template, which is where something concrete like a layout becomes visible to end users. And finally, Pages are unique instances that replace the template placeholders with real content.
Like all organisms, a Design System progresses through an iterative process and is like a living document. Although it provides efficiency and consistency for internal development, it also ensures an efficient and consistent user experience while engaging with a product. Testing and collecting feedback, both from the team and from user interactions, helps boost a Design System’s long-term health and relevance. By providing a strong foundation and ensuring regular feedback, Design Systems help improve the efficiency and velocity with which enterprises can build delightful products for customers today and in the future.