Design Systems Guide: Elements, Advantages, and Examples

A design system is a single source of truth that is used to expedite an organization's design team's activities.

A design system is a single source of truth that is used to expedite an organization’s design team’s activities. It creates a standard design language to improve design consistency and efficiency. Design systems have altered the way large and small businesses alike create digital goods. Large organization leaders use it to make their operations more design-led and resilient.

Spotify’s design director, Stanley Wood, created the GLUE (a Global Language for a Unified Experience) design framework to address the lack of uniformity in aspects throughout the Spotify ecosystem. When he joined the team in 2012, he saw that a lack of adequate design directives was impacting the quality of production. In 2013, he developed a set of rules to help the team, which was split across time zones and projects, stay on track. A standardized method increased the team’s efficiency, alignment, and intentionality toward a unified objective.

Design systems are powerful tools that may revolutionize the product design processes of enterprises. This tutorial will help you learn everything about it, from the definition to the many types, elements, techniques, steps, and excellent examples.

What exactly is a design system?

A design system, according to the Neilsen Norman group, is a full set of standards intended to govern design at scale through the use of reusable components and patterns.

A design system is a collection of features used to provide a consistent design experience for products. These features are guided by established standards and aid in the streamlining, management, and scaling of designs.

Design systems provide a source of knowledge and a collaborative platform for design teams. It is especially critical in today’s world, as offering a consistent user experience across different channels and touchpoints is critical.

Style Guide vs Design System vs Pattern Library

Design systems are frequently confused with style guides or template libraries. A design system is much more than just a set of design elements. It consists of a design vision, design principles, visual components, and documentation.

A style guide details the use of visual elements such as colors, fonts, shapes, and icons. In contrast, a pattern library is a repository of functional components. A design system consists of these assets, as well as structure, purpose, and records. As a result, it serves as a comprehensive reference, aiding the design team in all aspects. Every choice in a design process gets easier and clearer, from what to use to how to utilize and why.

Types of design systems

It is useful to understand the many types of design systems while applying them to businesses. The decision can be influenced by the size of the company, the number of items and platforms available, the sophistication of the users, and so on. Take a look at the three types of design systems.

Modular vs integrated

A modular system is made up of many reusable and replaceable elements. It is beneficial for large-scale projects such as ecommerce UX or banking apps. A modular approach makes it simple to grow projects fast and adapt to changing design needs.

Parts make up an integrated system as well, but they are not interchangeable. Because these systems are designed for unique situations, there may not be many recurring pieces. They are used to simplify designs that demand a great deal of creativity, such as portfolios and marketing campaigns.

Strict vs loose

A stringent system is very broad and all-encompassing. It addresses practically all use-cases. Every new addition to the system is subjected to a rigorous vetting process. Such systems have thorough documentation and are created by coordinating design and development.

A loose structure, on the other hand, gives the team more leeway. The goal here is to provide a basic structure while providing room for exploration and innovation. Depending on the scenario, the team has the option to employ it or not.

Note: It is critical to strike the proper balance between strictness and flexibility. A highly strict system may feel overly restrictive, whereas a highly lax system defeats the purpose of design systems.

Centralized vs Distributed

A specialized staff manages the design system in a centralized system. They are in charge of ensuring that the system satisfies the demands of users. It is their responsibility to supervise the work of others and to evolve the system as needed.

Several employees from various teams administer the design system and utilize it in their everyday work in a distributed system. Distributed systems have a better possibility of adoption since most users are personally involved and have a sense of belonging.

Advantages of Design Systems

Organizations may gain a variety of benefits that contribute to their success by implementing design systems.

Unified language 

Design systems help everyone in a company talk about design in one language. This is regardless of geographical location or the component they are working on. Team members converse in the same language during a conference call. It enhances cross-functional collaboration and reduces design waste.

Quick replication

Because design systems are made up of reusable components, it is simple to scale designs with fast replication. It decreases the amount of design effort necessary by avoiding starting from scratch. The ease of scaling provided by these systems is beneficial for big designs, such as e-commerce ventures or business applications.

Visual consistency 

Visual consistency is essential for a pleasant user experience in designs with various checkpoints across channels and platforms. It might be difficult to execute when teams work in silos and individually. A design system serves as a repository for components, patterns, and styles. This contributes to aesthetic uniformity across departments and goods.

Better teamwork 

Design systems are about more than just components and elements; they are about developing a shared vision and aligning everyone around it. It creates the groundwork for excellent cooperation while also serving as an instructional tool for all team members to adapt quickly.

More efficiency

Design systems, which use reusable pieces, reduce repetitive labor. This saves the design team time and effort. It allows them to focus on creative activities that utilize their expertise. As a result, efficiency and production have increased noticeably.

Approaches to Utilizing Design Systems

There are three typical ways of implementing a design system in an organization.

One option is to use an existing design system in its entirety. This technique allows for little customisation while being cost-effective and simple to adopt. It provides only limited brand uniqueness and is a decent option if a firm does not want customized solutions.

The second technique is to modify an existing system to meet the demands of a company. This takes more time and work, but it provides additional customization options. Some components may be updated, redesigned, or replaced, but the foundation is currently in place.

The third method is to develop specialized design systems. It is a significant expenditure that is advised for firms that seek significant brand distinction. Organizations with unique demands that existing systems cannot meet should choose this option since it allows for complete customization.

Elements of a Design System

A design system’s major parts may be divided into two categories: physical and immaterial.

Intangible elements

Intangible aspects contribute to the direction and cohesiveness of a design system. They are as follows:

  • Design principles: The principles are a collection of guidelines that assist the design team in using the patterns, elements, and style guide to produce a consistent design experience.
  • Design purpose: Aligning a design team behind a development purpose/philosophy will enhance and unite the team. It assists the team in defining the ideals that shape all parts of the design and in having a defined set of goals.
  • Documentation: The design system is described in the documentation. It contains information ranging from UI design use cases to aesthetics, component properties, coding standards, best practices, and so on.

Tangible elements

Design objects are tangible elements. They are as follows:

  • Components: Components are the various UI elements that comprise the interface, such as buttons and text boxes. Designers construct each component, and developers code it. Designers can save time and effort by reusing components.
  • Style guide: A style guide provides direction for visual design decisions. Typography, colors, and iconography are all part of it. Style guidelines are critical for developing a brand identity and ensuring design consistency across all touchpoints.
  • Patterns: Patterns are libraries that combine different components together depending on context to make them easier to utilize. Standardized patterns provide designs with familiarity and uniformity.

Steps to Create a Design System

The following are five steps to creating a design system:

Step 1: Define the goal

Before commencing the actual design process, it is critical to identify the design system’s goal. What and why are you building? This will aid in understanding how the design system should be structured, who should be involved, what values should be communicated, and what goals should be established.

Step 2: Conduct a visual audit.

Perform a visual assessment of the present design with the goal in mind. Determine the visual components in use, their quality, how well they correspond with the design philosophy, and so forth. Analyzing them will assist in estimating the effort necessary to construct a design system.

Step 3: Create a design language.

A design system’s heart is its design language. The emphasis at this stage is on developing a style guide for the system. Colors, fonts, and images are the foundation of the design language and should be consistent across the digital product.

Step 4: Create a pattern library.

The next step is to create a pattern library and UI components. The actual UI components are investigated at a micro-level in this section. They are gathered and combined to build the library.

Step 5: Documentation

Documentation is an inherent component of design systems. In fact, it is the feature that distinguishes a design system from a standard pattern library. It is preferable to include design and implementation in the documentation since it provides both designers and developers with a comprehensive overview rather than simply understanding their own component. This will lead to better design selections.

Examples of Design Systems

The structure of most design systems is the same. They often feature major navigation for key categories such as branding, components, code, and so on. Colors, rules, and typography are all framed by sub navigations in these categories. The process of studying design systems will provide many opportunities for inspiration and learning.

In this article, we will look at the five finest design systems of well-known firms.

Apple Human Interface Guidelines

Apple’s designs are renowned for their beauty. Human Interface Guidelines’ design philosophy is based on accuracy, empathy, simplicity, and concentration. It includes various tools for developers and designers, including guidelines, templates, and best practices, that may be used in their projects.

Google Material Design System

When Google released Material Design, it was a watershed moment in the history of design systems and served as a source of inspiration for many. Its thorough component classification and cataloging stood out and helped to organize design processes. Their design philosophy aims to develop a visual language that integrates historical design principles with technological breakthroughs, resulting in a cohesive user experience across all media.

Microsoft Fluent Design System

The Fluent Design System places a premium on inclusion and creating for all levels of human variation. Their design concept is to draw inspiration from variety, detect exclusions, and use them to build inclusive designs. They provide open-source elements and toolkits that others may use to duplicate the Microsoft ecosystem’s style.

Shopify Design System

The Shopify design system, an ecommerce site trusted by over 1 million customers, seeks to make it simple for anyone to establish, operate, and grow their business. They share the ideals of empowerment, familiarity, efficiency, and trustworthiness through their design system. Shopify’s system is a terrific source of information and inspiration for ecommerce designs.

Understanding and learning from the best design systems is a helpful way to understand the ins and outs of creating an effective design system.

Atlassian Design System

Atlassian is the company behind project management tools such as Jira and Trello, and they specialize in developing agile solutions to assist teams in planning and developing their products. Their core idea is to help people connect by establishing trust, matching goals, and keeping momentum across procedures.

Impact of Design Systems

A design system is a complete knowledge source. It may bring a design team together on the same page and make cooperation easier. Design systems are a boon for firms that operate remotely with a highly dispersed staff. It aids in establishing direction, avoiding overlap, and empowering everyone to make sound design decisions.

It is critical to create a design system tailored to a business in order for it to provide the most advantages. Because various firms may have different goals, a method that works for one may not work for another. So, before constructing a design system, consider the problem to be solved, and the ways in which design systems might assist. It takes some effort, but it pays off in the long term and makes the company more efficient.

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