Unlocking the Power of Design Systems: A Comprehensive Guide
From their basics to their maintenance, consider this your all-inclusive guide to understanding, constructing, and preserving your design system.
Oct 5, 2023
Oct 12, 2023
5 mins read
Imagine a diverse ensemble of designers and developers harmonizing their skills to craft a captivating, consistent, and accessible user experience across varied platforms and digital products. Sounds too good to be true? With design systems, this idyllic vision can come to life.
In this blog post, we'll navigate the intricate world of design systems. From their basics to their maintenance, consider this your all-inclusive guide to understanding, constructing, and preserving your design system that can scale your company.
Streamlined Excellence: Design systems pave the way for creating consistently stellar digital products by simplifying processes and bolstering teamwork.
Anatomy of a Design System: A design system typically encompasses style guides, pattern libraries, design principles, and thorough documentation, weaving together to form a unified design language.
Crafting Success: To erect a thriving design system, one must evaluate current designs, chalk out clear goals and objectives, and engage with stakeholders to ensure widespread acceptance.
Understanding Design Systems
Design systems are more than just a collection of UI elements; they are comprehensive sets of design resources, principles, and guidelines that ensure a consistent user experience across products and platforms.
Design systems enhance the overall quality of digital products. They do this by:
Streamlining the design process
Serving as a reliable reference for design teams
Promoting better collaboration and communication.
Components of a Design System
A design system typically consists of:
These components work together to create a cohesive and scalable design language. Style guides outline implementation guidelines and design principles, while pattern library and component libraries offer reusable UI elements, serving as “LEGO blocks” for designers and developers to build upon.
This unified approach to design allows for a seamless integration of UI components into a variety of projects and contexts, ensuring consistency and efficiency across the board.
Understanding the difference between components and patterns in a design system is essential. Components come with technical and functional documentation, whereas patterns guide their usage. These two aspects are integral to software development and design processes, facilitating the creation of consistent and meaningful digital experiences.
The Role of Design Principles
Design principles serve as guiding statements that assist teams in creating purposeful design choices, streamlining the development workflow, and ensuring a consistent user experience.
By comprehending not only the what but the why of the design system, teams can develop outstanding user experiences that adhere to established standards and incorporate all the elements that contribute to the design system.
Key design principles typically found in popular design systems include:
These principles provide direction and consistency for decision-making within a design system, enabling teams to make meaningful and consistent design choices that resonate with users and strengthen brand identity.
Building Your Own Design System
Building a design system involves assessing the current design landscape, defining goals and objectives, and collaborating with stakeholders to create a shared vision and language.
Following these steps will allow you to develop a design system that mirrors your brand’s identity and lays a solid foundation for the design and development of outstanding products and experiences.
Assessing Your Current Design Landscape
Assessing the current design landscape involves understanding the existing design assets, processes, and challenges within your organization. To identify and document existing design assets, you can utilize:
Design software such as Adobe XD or Figma
Audit past, current, and future branding elements
Organize design assets with digital asset management (DAM) software
Consider libraries in design files for asset management
Analyzing your organization’s design processes, such as Design Thinking Process and Organization Design Process, can help you evaluate their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Recognizing design challenges, such as competing priorities or poor governance, is crucial for pinpointing issues that may hinder the success of your design system.
Taking these steps results in a comprehensive inventory of your organization’s design landscape, setting the stage for constructing a successful design system.
Defining Goals and Objectives
Setting clear goals and objectives for your design system is key to rallying teams and stakeholders behind a unified vision and mission. These objectives should be specific, catering to both internal goals, like enhancing efficiency and consistency, and external ones, like elevating user experience and boosting brand visibility.
For an effective evaluation, introduce pivotal metrics or indicators that reflect the efficacy of the design system in meeting these set objectives, allowing for adjustments as and when necessary.
Building a diverse, cross-functional team that pulls in stakeholders from different backgrounds and specialties is also of paramount importance. Embracing this cooperative methodology ensures that every viewpoint is acknowledged, cultivating a culture of shared ownership and mutual accountability.
Such a comprehensive approach not only guarantees alignment during the development phase but also propels the enduring success and resilience of your design system.
Collaborating with Stakeholders
Collaborating with stakeholders is pivotal to gaining their endorsement and support for your design system across the organization. You can effectively navigate stakeholder identification and understanding hurdles by pinpointing these stakeholders, grasping their aspirations and anticipations, cultivating transparent communication pathways, and promoting a harmonious and inclusive environment.
For seamless integration of your design system, it's imperative to:
Clearly define project objectives, timelines, and deliverables.
Promote the benefits of the design system to stakeholders.
Establish a unified hub for collecting stakeholder feedback.
Consistently communicate with stakeholders.
Involving stakeholders throughout the design system's evolution garners their support and aligns their expectations, guaranteeing the system's effective implementation and widespread acceptance.
Popular Design System Examples and Key Takeaways
Popular design system examples, such as Google Material Design, Microsoft Fluent Design, and Airbnb Design Language, offer valuable insights and lessons for creating and maintaining successful design systems.
Studying these well-structured systems will allow you to learn from their triumphs and obstacles, facilitating the application of these insights to your design system.
Google Material Design System
The Google Material Design System is a comprehensive and mature design system that emphasizes familiarity, predictability, and extensive theming capabilities. It comprises guidelines, components, tools, and system icons, adhering to established user interface design best practices.
The system is composed of components classified by purpose, such as action, containment, communication, navigation, selection, and text input, ensuring a consistent and efficient design language across platforms, environments, and screen sizes.
Google Material Design System’s design guidelines include guiding principles such as:
These principles serve as the foundation for creating intuitive, efficient, and visually appealing digital products. Learning from Google’s approach to design systems provides a deeper understanding of how to develop a comprehensive and effective design system for your organization.
These companies have mentioned the use of Google Material design system in their team:
Google Apps: This includes apps like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Photos, Google Maps, and Google Calendar.
YouTube: The video streaming platform underwent a redesign in 2017 that incorporated Material Design elements.
Trello: The popular project management tool incorporates elements of Material Design in its interface.
Todoist: A task management application that has embraced Material Design.
Lyft: The ride-hailing app has used Material Design principles for its app interface.
Microsoft Fluent Design System
Microsoft Fluent Design System focuses on natural interactions, flexibility, and scalability for multiplatform experiences, using light, depth, and texture as key elements. It aims to provide a unified, open design system that enables people, teams, and their products to create consistent experiences across platforms.
To achieve natural interactions, Fluent Design emphasizes smooth and seamless transitions between elements and windows, a sense of fluidity and intuitiveness, and the use of physical elements to create a visual hierarchy and organize content.
The significance of light, depth, and texture in Microsoft Fluent Design System lies in their ability to enhance the user experience. Here’s how each element contributes:
Light provides illumination and directs user navigation within an application.
Depth enables the transformation of 2D elements into a 3D space, adding visual interest and depth perception.
Acrylic texture adds physical texture and material to the app, creating a more tactile and immersive experience.
Analyzing Microsoft’s approach to design systems assists in gaining valuable insights, aiding the creation of a flexible, scalable, and immersive design system for your organization.
Here are some example that uses Microsoft fluent design system:
Microsoft: Naturally, Microsoft integrates Fluent Design across its suite of products and applications, including:
Windows 10: Fluent Design is incorporated in the interface, apps, and animations.
Microsoft Office Suite: Apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook have been updated over time to reflect Fluent Design principles.
Microsoft Teams: The collaboration tool incorporates Fluent Design elements.
GroupMe: A mobile group messaging app owned by Microsoft, has incorporated elements of Fluent Design.
Huawei: The company's PC Manager software on its laptops uses the Fluent Design System, especially visible when they launched devices running Windows 10.
myTube: A popular third-party YouTube client for Windows, which implements many aspects of the Fluent Design System.
Xodo PDF Reader & Editor: A popular PDF tool on the Microsoft Store that incorporates Fluent Design.
Airbnb Design Language System
Airbnb Design Language System, showcases the power of consistency and collaboration in creating a unique and recognizable design language across products and platforms. It comprises:
Visual style guidelines
Their design system has enhanced consistency across products by establishing a shared visual language and design principles, which guarantees uniformity in appearance and feel, facilitating communication and collaboration between designers and stakeholders.
Airbnb’s Design Language System is distinguished by:
Components as living organisms
Personality and brand recognizability
Collaboration across businesses
Synchronization of features and designs
By fostering adoption and collaboration among its design team, Airbnb has created a design system that helps manage projects more productively and facilitates better collaboration between design and development teams.
Examining Airbnb’s approach provides valuable insights into constructing a successful and efficient design system that encourages collaboration and innovation.
Implementing and Maintaining Your Design System
Implementing and maintaining your design system requires integration with existing workflows, regular updates, and fostering adoption and collaboration among teams.
Following these steps will ensure the continued relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability of your design system.
Integration with Existing Workflows
Integrating your design system with existing workflows ensures seamless adoption and minimizes disruption to the design and development processes. Aligning design and development practices with the design system enables teams to leverage its assets and standards to streamline their work and deliver cohesive user experiences.
To integrate your design system into existing workflows, follow these steps:
Establish the procedure
Engage with stakeholders
Harmonize tools and processes
Create shared responsibility
Offer documentation and instruction
Adhering to these steps will ensure the seamless adoption of your design system by your organization, contributing to the success of your digital products.
Keeping Your Design System Up-to-Date
Keeping your design system up-to-date involves continuous maintenance, iteration, and improvement to ensure it remains relevant and effective.
Regular updates to your design system are essential to guarantee its ongoing success, as they help to revise components, respond to user feedback, and conform with any changes or updates in the product or industry.
To maintain your design system, ensure that:
It is easy to maintain and update
Documentation and communication are provided to all stakeholders
Regular evaluation and optimization are done to address any gaps or areas for improvement.
Continual updates and refinements of your design system will ensure it remains a valuable resource for your organization.
Fostering Adoption and Collaboration
Fostering adoption and collaboration among teams is essential for the success of your design system, as it encourages consistent use and shared ownership.
By promoting the design system and providing training sessions, you can ensure that all team members are familiar with the system and its benefits, leading to increased adoption and collaboration.
Creating a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility also contributes to the long-term success of your design system.
Involving stakeholders in the design system development process helps secure their approval, aligns their expectations, and ensures the successful implementation and widespread adoption of the design system.
Overcoming Common Design System Challenges
Overcoming common design system challenges, such as balancing flexibility and consistency, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity, and managing scalability and complexity, is crucial for creating a successful and sustainable design system.
Addressing these challenges will ensure your design system meets the diverse needs of both your organization and its users.
Balancing Flexibility and Consistency
Balancing flexibility and consistency in a design system involves finding the right level of strictness and adaptability to accommodate diverse needs and contexts.
Maintaining a balance between flexibility and consistency is essential for achieving adaptability to varying requirements while preserving standards and cohesion.
Striking the right balance fosters collaboration, accelerates design and development cycles, and stimulates creativity within the system.
To achieve the ideal balance between flexibility and consistency, you can follow these strategies:
Establish clear boundaries
Balance flexibility and consistency
Standardize where appropriate
By following these strategies, you can create a design system that is both adaptable and consistent, meeting the diverse needs of your organization and its users.
Ensuring Accessibility and Inclusivity
Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity in your design system requires prioritizing universal design principles and adhering to accessibility standards throughout the design process.
By including accessibility and inclusivity principles in your design system, you can craft components and interfaces that meet the needs of all users, including those with disabilities, encouraging diversity and inclusion.
The universal design principles in a design system encompass:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
Size and Space for Approach and Use
Adherence to these principles and prioritizing accessibility allows you to develop a design system that is both compliant with ethical and legal standards, and delivers an exceptional user experience for all.
Managing Scalability and Complexity
Managing scalability and complexity in a design system involves creating modular and reusable components, as well as organizing and documenting the system effectively to minimize confusion and inefficiencies.
A modular system allows for component reuse and combination, ensuring that your design system can be easily expanded and adapted to accommodate new products and features.
To manage scalability and complexity within your design system, consider structuring and documenting the system systematically, reducing complexity and inefficiencies, and evaluating and optimizing the system regularly. Employing these strategies results in a design system that is both scalable and manageable, laying a solid foundation for your organization’s design and development endeavors.
In conclusion, design systems are powerful tools that can streamline your web design process, improve collaboration, and create consistent and accessible user experiences across products and platforms. By having a strong design system also helps you to avoid common UX mistakes.
By understanding the components and principles of design systems, building your own design system, learning from popular examples, and addressing common challenges, you can unlock the full potential of design systems and create exceptional digital products that stand out in today’s competitive market. So, why not embark on this exciting journey and start building your own design system today?
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a design systems?
A design system is a collection of reusable components, pattern libraries, colors, fonts and design principles that help companies achieve consistent visual design at scale.
Design systems help organizations create user experiences that are consistent, familiar, and accessible while saving time and money.
What are the main components of a design system?
A design system is composed of style guides, pattern libraries, design principles and documentation, all of which work together to create an organized and effective workflow.
How can a design system improve collaboration among teams?
A design system enables teams to collaborate more effectively by providing a shared language, reusable components, and guidelines, thus simplifying communication and workflows.
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About our author
David is the founder of Zensite, a product design agency based in Singapore. Since 2016, David have been involved in many UI UX related topics covering user experience, product design, digital experience and also founded Friends of Figma, a Figma Community in Malaysia.
Fay Mira is an MD with digital health experience and expertise in UI/UX based in Malaysia. With her experience working with a health tech company, she is currently the experience designer in Zensite since 2016.