5 Key Steps to Build the Perfect Design System
Essential Steps to Build a Design System
Design systems are a collection of reusable items, elements, and rules that come as a guideline for the whole team of project design. It is now widely considered as a crucial part of the UX design process that carries weight in providing a successful experience for users.
Over the past few years, this system has brought a breath of fresh air to product design strategies in many countries, and it is much more than the typical UI guides.
We hear a lot about the necessity of creating this system, considering the consistency and other benefits it offers us.
Famous companies such as IBM and Airbnb have likewise incorporated design systems of their own to speed up and facilitate creations inside their teams.
With this short introduction in mind, let's get down to a more detailed description of design systems and find out about the way it can help us.
What Exactly is a Design System?
A design system is the all-in-one source of information consisting of various elements to assist team members in product design and development.
It lets you handle all that is related to product design at a larger scale for multiple applications. The overall result of this set of guidelines is a coherent order in systems that cover every single step, from action buttons to a landing page.
What is the Difference Between Design Systems and Style Guides?
Typically, a design system consists of various elements that make it a reliable source for different applications.
What you find in a style guide is a wide range of colors, logos, fonts, and other necessary attributes for a brand. Design and marketing teams mostly use the style guides, but a design system is above the visual and presentation aspects.
It is a combination of style, voice, and components that are crucial for creating the embodiment of a system.
Consider the guides that are mainly focused on the way that companies should talk to their audiences.
This is different from the regular style guides since it tells you what to do and what to avoid to convey a better feeling to a human being, and therefore, leave a more valuable experience behind.
In simple words, you can find the principles, guides, patterns, components, and protocols all in a place called a design system.
Why Should a Company Have Design System?
A design system is a dynamic collection of information that evolves alongside the products as the company expands or as the customer needs change.
Increased productivity and easier collaboration are two inseparable outcomes of design systems in teamwork. They can help businesses in many ways with their growth, and here are some of the most important ones:
Companies often need to design for multiple platforms while they keep the consistency of interaction and behavior among them.
The more consistent your sources are, the easier it would be for designers and developers to implement high-quality UI.
This way, they will be able to consider a specific product or page as a combination of known elements. Consider that you need a CTA button on a landing page.
Instead of describing the exact details about the font, padding, color, and background, you simply ask them to give you a “Primary CTA.”
Doing so prevents seeing a product with more than ten different types of button styles, multiple design layouts, and varying feelings and looks.
From another point of view, it gives a component-based and modular mindset to your designers. It allows them to define much more manageable elements and make the required changes as per the design needs.
This consistency leaves no final result but a product with higher quality that facilitates the monitoring of the QA team as well.
Are you one of those corporations that have multiple teams working on the projects simultaneously? If that is the case for you, establishing a design system can speed up collaboration among team members greatly.
This source of information allows you to save so much time on creating new projects from scratch or upgrading the existing ones since people have better access to various resources.
Moreover, communication between designers and developers gets more efficient. That's why many consider design systems as a bridge between these disciplines.
Having a design system not only increases the productivity of current team members but also accelerates the on-boarding stages of newcomers.
New designers or developers in your team can get familiar with your values way faster and will be able to locate what they need effortlessly.
What Type of Design System Do We Need?
The kind of design system to follow is highly dependent on your team and the product you want to produce. We can figure it out by starting with some simple questions.
- Is the system going to be used by a small team or a large one? Do they fully understand the subject?
- What is the total number of products that are going to be aligned? What platforms and technologies do we use?
- Is the consistency of all products a vital matter to us or not?
The following principles can give us a better understanding in this regard.
Flexible or Rigid?
First of all, you need to have a clear idea of whether you want to leave space for further experiments or not.
A flexible plan gives all the team members a general guideline to use while it provides them with some level of freedom. It means that your team members in both design and development sections can make use of it based on their requirements.
On the other hand, a rigid plan covers detailed documentation, which gives both designers and developers a synchronized plan to follow.
Entering new ideas or elements into the plan is not easy in strict systems, and therefore, they should be prepared in the first place with all things considered.
The best approach is to utilize a combination of flexibility and rigidness. Sometimes your designers and developers may not be that much interested in using your design system, and obliging them to do so leaves no impact but to push them back.
However, a very loose system that leaves everything optional could not be considered a design system at all! So keep in mind to get the best of both worlds by preparing your design system with strict and loose system plans together.
Modular vs. Integrated
Modular system designs are now being widely used in different industries. It's best suggested to be used in projects that entail multiple users' needs and should scale in a short period.
However, the implementation of such systems often need higher budgets since making independent parts that can work together efficiently is a challenging task.
It is often used in wide-ranging projects such as large online stores or governmental websites.
An integrated system, on the other side, is mainly focused on a single context. Although it is made of some parts, they can be replaced or used interchangeably.
It's proper for systems that do not have so many repeating elements in them.
How to Build a Design System?
Starting a design system for your organization can feel extremely daunting in the beginning. There is a wide range of points to consider, and a design system cannot be prepared and put into action overnight.
Generally speaking, there are two cases in front of us, starting a whole new project or working with the products we currently have. The overall approach is almost the same, but the latter covers more steps.
For a new project, you should start by checking different samples that include elements and concepts. Look for the designs that can make you feel satisfied and then use existing popular principles to come up with colors and shapes for various parts.
In case you already work with a project, the first step to take is creating an inventory of UI elements.
By doing so, you will be able to analyze the differences and similarities between them and, therefore, decrease extra options.
Now you can efficiently group them based on their application and use the available tools to speed up the process.
As a general procedure, the key steps to creating such a system are as follows.
Analyze What You Have
The best way to choose what design system to implement is by reviewing the existing approach you have applied for your designs. Start by figuring out the processes you follow and the tools you use for that purpose.
Also, evaluate how easily your product teams can understand design aspects in an attempt to estimate the required time for introducing the design system.
Next, identify the alphabet you use for your brand.
This general term includes the product values and the colors, voice, and fonts you use. You can also review the guidelines of your brand and refer to this data collection when working on design principles.
Examine Visual Aspects
The last thing you want ever to encounter is design duplication. It brings you inconsistency, which leads to lower quality in the project outcomes.
Do a visual audit to identify the duplications and classify all the related components in the product. This audit will not only help you find the inconsistencies within the product but also the most significant and used elements in it.
You can begin this multistage process by finding out about the number of unique colors and typefaces in your CSS with the help of the CSS Stats tool.
Now that you have a better idea about your styling, you can look for the components.
Here you can use the Atomic Design website in which, as the name implies, you will find a breakdown of the smallest elements that exist on a web page.
Create Design Language and Pattern
Your design language is the heart of the design system you intend to use. Magnificent user experience can be achieved by clearly understanding why design decisions are made.
Your design principles should give an understandable response to questions about what you build, the reason behind that, and the methodology you have used for it. A language of design should have four primary parts.
Commonly, two or three main colors are put into use to represent the identity of a brand. In case you wish to give your designers more options, include color mixtures, shades, and tints.
A proper design system often consists of two fonts; one for headings and body and another font for codes. Keep away from having multiple fonts since it only confuses your users without any positive results. Also, Choosing the right font for website can be tricky so pay enough attention to it.
Spacing and Sizing
The spaces and margins you use on your pages appear most favorably when they are balanced. Opting for systems that are in full compatibility with smartphones is now becoming a must in this regard.
Your images should likewise be prepared based on guidelines. Set some rules and plans for your brand and stick to it at all costs.
Now it's time to dive into the actual components that will be used in your UI. Make a library out of the parts and pieces you have, which includes every single button, image, and even your forms.
Evaluate them based on your exact needs, merge the similar ones, and remove the extra items to make a more simplified decision-making process.
Set Rules and Strategies
As earlier pointed out, the ultimate goal of a design system is to take creativity to a higher level.
We mentioned in the previous sections that your rules should be a combination of strict and loose ones so that the creativity of team members are never limited to a single direction.
Taking the dynamic nature of a design system into consideration, you should define the way you will be coping with changes in the long run.
One of the popular models describes three approaches for a governance strategy—solitary, centralized, and federated.
In the solitary model, a responsible individual or a group makes all the decisions related to the design system.
The centralized model refers to conditions in which a team is in charge of what happens in the system. And the federated model means having several people from various teams to be in charge of the system.
Many believe the solitary model to be the riskiest choice since one person decides for everything, which in many cases, can prevent task completions.
Organizations that have a team in charge of upgrading and changing the system should keep them in close contact with others so that to make the system more versatile.
Considering the involvement of several teams in the federated model, people can adapt to changes much faster. Yet, a team leader is required to control the overall progress.
Each of these options has pros and cons, and choosing the model is all up to you.
You can implement a combination of all approaches in your team, but no matter what you do, always keep a focus on the participation of team members in your system and encourage them to discuss their ideas.
Design systems are not futuristic visions anymore. A design system is a full package of design necessities that is increasingly becoming the foundation of product strategies in companies.
The better integration it can provide with designers and developers, the better results it generates. This system strengthens design-driven activities and keeps evolving over time.
Therefore, we should continuously keep it updated alongside product changes and developments.
November 23, 2022