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There’s been a lot of debate and discussion about the need for the widespread adoption of design systems within the design community, and for good reason! The likes of Adobe, Google, and IBM have built robust design systems in order to save time, ṃinimize rework and reuse components that would otherwise require the investment of time and resources. Particularly in discussions around scalability and consistency in design, design systems almost always receive a thumbs up and lend themselves to turning around efficient products in quick timelines.

In that sense, design systems contribute to enhanced customer experience and a better business ROI.

How does a design system add value?

Typically, for a design system to be of maximum value to an organization, it needs to be updated regularly to adapt to dynamically changing requirements that evolve over time. This helps UX/UI designers find a strategic starting point for building a thoughtfully designed product. Additionally, a design system acts as a single source of information for an entire product team by cohesively guiding the team in product design and development.

So, how does one grow a design system to meet the needs of an evolving product?

Design is increasingly becoming more complex and involves more cross-functional teams than ever before. That means the design system that you build should be accessible and comprehensible to all the teams irrespective of their level of expertise. Having a shared design language, resources, and guidelines empower teams to collaborate and make better decisions. It also makes developing and testing their work faster.

Here are a few ways in which you can maintain a design system and keep it updated with your organization’s growing needs.

  • Invest time for research and learn about what you can expect to draw a future roadmap for your design system.
  • Centralize your design system to keep it robust and accessible.
  • Market the design system internally for what it is and raise awareness about the value it brings among internal stakeholders.
  • Organize design system components appropriately and make it useful for everyone involved by cutting down on complexity.

How do you choose: Custom design or adopted design?

While building a product, designers can choose to use a custom design or an adopted design. Custom design is used in instances where innovation takes precedence over other goals such as consistency. With custom design, you can exercise the freedom and flexibility to tweak parts of available references or use cases to innovate and build brand-new products. Adopted design systems are best suited if the need is to build out a new feature for an existing product.

Typical components that comprise a design system

A design system typically has a well-defined set of design standards, documentation, and principles along with the toolkit (UI patterns and code components) to achieve those standards. The system includes every guideline, process, template, and customizable element you can imagine, from the gross to the granular.

A subclass of design systems, pattern libraries are a comprehensive repository of UX and UI elements that frequently appear on a product. Navigation elements, carousels, social media features, buttons, dropdowns menu, and more components can all be considered part of a pattern library. Once a designer creates a pattern, they’re moved to the library for every team member to use.

A style guide is an integral part of an overarching design system that consists of branding rules that guide how products should look and feel, details about typography, use cases for UI patterns, and more static documentation that particularly describes the design system itself. It’s the most accessible form of a set of design rules for a company. You can create your own style guide while using material design for building different applications.

Each of these components is distinct in its own way in that one cannot be used as a replacement for the other. For instance, a style guide on its own becomes quickly outdated since documentation requires maintenance while a pattern library lacks the instructions and principles for coherent implementation. It’s the design system as a whole that brings everything together.

The benefits of a design system extend beyond bringing the internal and external teams on the same page. Let’s explore a few.

1 . Enhances brand recognition:

A design system that includes a collection of elements helps build and reflect the values and recognition of a brand. With the help of a design system, designers and developers can create a unique brand value that helps consumers resonate with a product brand. Design systems may also provide the unique style, colors, and typography to promote a brand.

2. Saves time and promotes consistency:

The time you spent on creating a design system will help the product final out. By doing this the time designers spend on multiple iterations can be avoided. Having a consistent look and feel will make the users comfortable and have confidence in your products and services. With predefined components and a known definition of how they are used, when they are used, and how they function, time is also saved by eliminating unnecessary meetings to discuss how things should be implemented.

3. Keeps the team members on the same page:

Design systems ensure that you gather the essential and relevant information in one place. For example, if you need to onboard new designers or developers, a design system can smoothly help the process. The design system allows team members to stay in sync. Whenever a team member introduces a change in the design system, for example: adding a new component or changing color in a product’s color palette, all other team members should be automatically notified about these changes.

4. Minimizes design and development iterations:

A refined design system provides a unified language for developers and designers who work on the products. Setting a clear and transparent picture in the initial stage itself, brings the designing and development process a lot easier and it will definitely reduce the re-work duration of production. In addition, communication is an integral part of any process, and design systems are usually a reliable way to improve collaboration within teams and across departments. With the proper requirements of the product and a well-structured design system, development iterations can be minimized.

What are the potential challenges of using a design system for product development?

Overcoming the perception that design systems are complex and are understood only by designers is one of the major roadblocks in cross-functional teams taking to the idea of a design system. Therefore, the initiative to build and implement one is a challenge in itself.

More so, as an organization matures, a design system becomes difficult to maintain. Given that a design system doesn’t immediately translate into improved ROI even as the initial investment is substantial, convincing all the stakeholders of its need gets tricky. As a first step to overcoming this notion, It is therefore important for designers to educate business owners and key stakeholders about the long-term benefits of building a robust design system.

Design systems significantly minimize the time spent on problem-solving everyday snags, thus freeing up designers’ and developers’ time in order to work on solving higher-level problems that add more value to the business in the long run.

Author Bio 

Sarojini Balakrishnan is a Lead UX Designer at Ionixx Technologies. She believes that UX design requires a good mix of creativity and curiosity. Having picked up strong domain expertise across several verticals in her job stints so far, she seeks to build on her UX skillset through exploration — be it new websites, latest trends, or academic journals, she is always eager to learn with childlike enthusiasm. She loves exploring the potential of innovative UX for both consumer-facing and staff-facing applications.