Design systems — an introduction

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The evolution of software development generates a growing demand for solutions ensuring consistency between various systems and communication channels. What is more, applications are evolving faster and faster to meet the expectations of modern users. This is why cross-platforms have started to dominate the market. Their quick and convenient creation is possible thanks to design systems. How do they work and what are their advantages?

What are design systems?

There are many different definitions of design systems, depending primarily on who is considered their end user. Usually, these are programmers working on applications, although at the end of the day, people using the software benefit from these solutions. One of the best explanations came from Therese Fessenden of the Nielsen Norman Group. She stated that “A design system is a set of standards to manage design at scale by reducing redundancy while creating a shared language and visual consistency across different pages and channels“.

Design systems — advantages

The key advantages of design systems include:

  • Consistency of code, interface, experiences and brand identity.
  • Facilitating cooperation between specialists from different departments (IT, marketing, etc.).
  • Better control over code quality and user experience.
  • Optimization of project costs.
  • Recognition and a positive brand image.

It is worth noting, however, that the above benefits are available only to those organizations that care about the full implementation of the design system, its constant updates and appropriate training of team members.

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What does a design system consist of?

There is no one correct way to build and develop a design system. One organization will have to build it from scratch, which will turn out to be quite costly, while the other will be able to use existing solutions from other companies. Typically, each design system consists of the following elements:

  • Content style guide — defines the way of communication with software users (e.g., style, language etc.).
  • Design style guide — relates to the visual aspects (e.g., fonts, colours, icons, templates etc.).
  • Component library — contains various interface elements, along with their variants and context of use (e.g., buttons).
  • UI pattern library — a set of key interface patterns (including searching, filtering, loading or validation).

All of the above elements can work independently, but only when combined with the product and made available to stakeholders they create a comprehensive design system.

Design systems — examples

To understand well how design systems work, it is worth following examples. The most popular are:

  • Polaris — a design system created by Shopify, which initially allowed for convenient product design in the area of this software, and over time evolved into a solution intended for the entire e-commerce market.
  • Google Material Design — one of the most mature design systems on the market. Thanks to it, dozens of different Google products work together perfectly. The language common to designers and developers additionally facilitates work on applications.
  • Apple Human Interface Guidelines — standards used to create applications for the Apple ecosystem. They guarantee interfaces that are intuitive and easily accessible for every user.
  • Mailchimp Content Style Guide — a design system that was initially used by Mailchimp employees, but with time it was made available to external developers. It focuses primarily on technical and formal communication guidelines.
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Design systems — summary

Design systems have already become a standard in software development. It is a solution that guarantees common understanding within the team, significantly improves work and supports product development. The more the project grows, the more important the use of the design system becomes. Thanks to it, each team member is perfectly oriented on the division of duties.

Remember that the design system will only work properly if it is adapted to the needs of the organization. Therefore, first, you should ask yourself what problems in your project need to be solved. Moreover, the design system requires constant development, so it is not enough just to introduce it. For it to work, you need to constantly update it and make sure your team knows how to use it.

If you want to know more about design systems, read a longer article on this topic: https://noaignite.co.uk/blog/design-systems-introduction