Brands and products have evolved and developed drastically over time to keep up with our changing world. Companies like Airbnb, Google, and Uber have changed the way to design digital products by incorporating their own identity into the design systems. Whether it is updating to a modern typeface or removing components that no longer support the product’s goal, small and incremental changes are crucial to satisfy a user’s need and easy accessibility.
However, the Digital Design System has not always been at the forefront of product development, the evolution has been complex. Design systems existed in a time where digital was considered a ‘side’ project. Where a meticulous 300 pages guideline was created for the print and digital was non-existent. Times have changed now, digital is the future and brands have realized that a process can be manageable when strategically planned.
Let’s dig into the fundamentals of design systems, plan how you can build and implement one in your organization, and explore several ways your organizations can use design systems to drive success. But first…
What Is A Design System?
A design system is a series of components that can be reused in different combinations. Usually done as part of a larger branding process, Brand Design Systems are created by understanding the strategic business goals, organizational structure, and specific communications that are unique to the needs of a brand, then an integrated set of tools, templates, and guidelines are designed to support them.
The design systems that we are talking about here are specific to digital products — websites, applications, etc, and the people who are closely associated are those who work on digital design, user experience, front-end development and other interactive designs.
Why Do You Need It?
Generally confused with a Style Guide or Pattern Library, Design systems are a great tool to align the flow between design and development teams by simplifying processes, making them more efficient. Since the basics are covered it allows teams to focus on solving more complex problems.
Reasons to use a design system:
- Creates brand consistency across multiple products
- Act as a tool for designers and developers
- Creates a consistent source of information
- Improves communication and simplify the workflow between teams
- Builds in efficiency and speed, which reduce costs
- Increases communication between development and design
What Kind Of Design System Do You Need?
Collaboration is at the core of any design system. But before that, it is important to understand that a design system is unique to every product.
Do you need a strict system where there is full synchronization between design and development or a loose system that leaves space for experimentation?
Does your product need a modular system where components are reusable and interchangeable, perfect for projects that adapt to multiple user needs, or an integrated system that focuses on a unique context?
The requirement for a design system can also change with the size of the organization. In a centralized model, one team is in charge of the system and its evolution whereas, in a distributed model, several people of several teams are in-charge with a team leader responsible for cohering the overall vision.
What Is Inside A Design System?
The fundamental purpose of a Design System is to facilitate the work of the teams and encourage effective communication. So the first question you need to ask ourselves is not “what should I put inside my Design System?” but “who is going to use it and how effectively?
- A Sense Of Purpose and Shared Values: While developing a digital product like a website or app, several teams are involved, and they must share a common goal. It will help to build a vision, make the decisions seem a lot less daunting, and make your process much more efficient. As for the values, they are like the ideals that will guide our choices. In terms of the people, a brand value translates to team value seamlessly.
- Design Principles: A Design System is the single source of truth that groups all the elements that will allow the teams to design, realize, and develop a product. The inclusion of design principles helps teams make meaningful design decisions. Example: In the case of the publishing platform, Medium, who believes in the design principle of “direction over choice” opted for a minimalist text regulator design in the sea of unlimited choices of colours and fonts because the purpose of the product is to focus on the articles rather than the visual aesthetics.
- Brand Identity: A design system is diligently maintained guidelines that are in complete synchronization with business objectives and marketing strategy. A well-designed design system is similar to building a house where a strong foundation leads to the success of the structure in the long run. Hence, before you start thinking about what components you will need in the toolkit, start by identifying the foundational elements that will be the baseline of your communication.
- Components: Components and patterns are at the heart of the Design System. They are more like LEGO blocks – every piece has a specific function. May it be your in-house team or a branding agency, this is the time when you sit with a multidisciplinary team, whiteboard, and delegate the work.
Why Is It So Relevant Today?
The desire to control the components and factorizing design is not a new concept but has gained popularity in the designing community in recent years. Modern Design System is a direct descendant of the Graphic guidelines from times of print media. However, in the digital age, the design is more powerful than ever. Design systems have the power to transform a typical organization into a powerful product design force. In today’s oversaturated market, it lays a solid design foundation that sets you apart and leaves you with a valuable life lesson – never stop shaping and updating—that is where evolution exists.