What is a design system?
A design system is a framework carefully put together to improve product design efficiency by providing design stakeholders with a unified repository of reusable elements used to create a myriad of product designs with speed and consistency. They also eliminate the burden on designers to directly source their styles, components, elements, and patterns by providing them with a simple, user-friendly repository of everything necessary for excellent outcomes. Thus a sound design system allows designers to focus on their product designs with reduced distractions.
Importance of design systems
Pursuing design consistency is essential for most leading design companies prioritizing high-quality outcomes. This benchmark is hard to achieve when design-led organizations operate without an adequate design system to simplify and improve the designers’ workload. When an organization lacking a design system employs multiple teams to create products, the design often has ununiform elements attained from different sources, causing mismatched products. Another situation highlighting the importance of design systems is when businesses employ many remote and non-remote designers. In such cases, it is difficult to implement company-wide design consistency due to a lack of collaboration between geographically separated teams. Design systems mitigate this by providing design and non-design stakeholders with the correct libraries with patterns, procedures, components, frameworks, and style guides that are acceptable representations of the brand image.
Elements of a functioning design system
Design systems are only as robust as the functionalities, features, and operational guidance they provide to design stakeholders. Systems that lack one or more of these crucial elements can result in adaptability issues with design stakeholders. A genuinely powerful design system must contain the following features
The design system repository is the lifeblood of the design system. It is the single source of truth for all design needs consisting of several elements, each serving its unique purpose. The effectiveness of a design system largely depends on the usability, quality, and depth of its elements. Let’s explore some of the crucial aspects of a robust design system.
The purpose of UX design should be a personification of brand image and beliefs. The best UX design requires consistency in components for all organizational designers and teams. Businesses can achieve this consistency by building an elaborate library consisting of files and folders of all the acceptable and usable components for product design. This library, typically consisting of icons, buttons, fonts, UI kits, and source codes can be invaluable to the design process when adopted without stakeholder resistance.
Just because all design stakeholders are drawing from the same component repository does not necessarily mean that the designs will be consistent. Without style guidelines, designers and teams utilize the same resources to make different designs. On the other hand, when a style guide is present in the design system, design teams pull the same resources and follow uniform instructions, visual references, colors, fonts, tone, and language to best represent the brand image while maintaining design consistency.
Design teams widely use pattern libraries to improve product usability and are an integral part of the design system. Designers and teams often require reusing and repeating existing patterns to avoid product mismatches when designing multiple products. A repository dedicated to patterns provides designers and teams with an assemblage of all accepted UI patterns they need to design their digital products. Some of the examples of the aspects of a pattern library are call-to-action buttons, search bars, company logos, and links.
The most integral component of any successful design system is the team harnessing it to fulfill its potential. Design organizations facing increased friction between their design teams and the design system are unlikely to generate positive design outcomes. Subpar outcomes often occur when designers perceive the system as complex or lack the necessary operating knowledge. This problem could arise when design-led companies fail to share periodical system information and instructions with all design actors. Simplifying the design system ensures comprehensibility to all seasoned design stakeholders and new design recruits. A simple yet powerful design system UI is a great way to ensure designer adaptability.
Repositories that do not possess all these necessary design requirements will often lead designers to seek sourcing outside the confines of the system. Ideal design systems help businesses reduce friction and increase their widespread adaptability.
Driving design system adoption
Design organizations that successfully adopt a design system benefit from quantifiable product outcomes and achieve UX maturity. Although, it is not always an easy task to attain company-wide adaptability. Here are some tips we can offer you to formulate your adoption strategy to make your design system a valuable arsenal in your design operations.
Keep design and non-design stakeholders informed
A good rule of thumb is informing your design stakeholders well in advance about the design system. This simple but effective approach can help designers mentally prepare their mindsets to adapt to the new system. Thrusting a new system abruptly on employees can result in disharmony and confusion that could cause the design output to suffer. Remember, the design system can effectively do its job and produce the best outcomes only when the collective attitude toward its adoption is overwhelmingly positive.
Convince stakeholders of the benefits
Creating a hands-on experience with early prototypes of the design system is an excellent way to illuminate its need and benefits. These sandbox environments help reduce friction with outdated mindsets and increase system adaptability. Through practical experience, designers can additionally help improve the system by identifying early flaws during early rollout or beta phases to increase its robustness, quality, and effectiveness.
A gradual rollout
This is not to say that you cannot roll out your system in one go. Instead, it highlights the possible pitfalls that occur when doing so. Planning a stage-wise rollout allows all stakeholders to gradually ease into the system, giving them time to explore the potential design possibilities made available from the elaborate libraries, styles, guidelines, and other aspects.
Keep it familiar
Unless existing libraries are obsolete and completely useless, try not to rehaul all libraries with new ones. It is good practice to try and build your design system around existing components and practices used by design teams. Sometimes, the best systems are structured to efficiently standardize existing practices drawing their resources from already sourced design elements. Building libraries per the designer’s needs is a good rule when designing and implementing design systems for widespread adaptability. The familiarity created helps designers feel more comfortable utilizing the system from day one and reduces the chances of them abandoning the system and reverting to old practices.
Provide a clear set of rules and guidelines
The fundamental requirement of design systems for most companies is to enforce business-centric regulations and guidelines. Designers and teams may fail to maintain or deviate from business standards without good governance. Hard-coding all guidelines is a market-tested way to ensure that stakeholders meet the business criteria. These standards help keep a well-structured environment with all the necessary instructions for design teams to coordinate to produce excellent and consistent outputs.
Always keep the designers informed
Leading design leaders ensure that design systems are constantly updated to reflect current market conditions and business requirements changes. Rolling out without the accompanying information, instructions, and documentation is a bad practice that could lead to undesired consequences. Without the update information and changelogs, the critical awareness about the existence of the update and its purpose remain unclear to the design stakeholders. When designers and teams are unaware of the updates and new company protocol, mismatched design practices occur between actors who are aware and unaware of recent changes resulting in product inconsistencies. A piece of helpful advice is always to keep the design ecosystem in the loop when planning and implementing design system updates. This transparency is an excellent practice to reduce designer friction.
In conclusion, remember that the adaptability of your design system majorly depends on its quality and ability to make design processes and consistency seamless for all design stakeholders and your ability to make stakeholders aware of its benefits. Creating design easily adaptable systems is a process that’s now made more straightforward by various designOps platforms available on the market.
How Cubyts can help change mindsets and help you implement your design system
Cubyts is one such platform that strives to solve all your DesignOps needs. By using our state-of-the-art DesignOps platform, building the best design libraries has never been easier. Our platform can be the collaboration hub for all your UX activities. We can help you manage all internal teams and external vendors with robust tools and processes compatible with most external systems. Contact us to find out more.