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Design Systems for Beginners

Design Systems for Beginners

Communication and team collaboration are two of the most important aspects of Product Development workflows. As it happens, they're also some of the most challenging. Software products are a massive collection of elements or components harmoniously grouped. Even small digital products or Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) can involve many elements. Building successful products with stunning User Interfaces (UI) requires ensuring components are consistent across the entire app. After all, users need consistent User Experiences (UX).

Just imagine how messy design language can get when a large project requires constant scalability. That's why Design Systems are so useful. They streamline team communication and collaboration, providing comprehensive guidelines for development and design teams. This way, they help get the most out of designing and development time, saving the company time and money. Let's dive deeper into this comprehensive guide on the most important aspects of Design Systems for creating cohesive experiences.

What is a Design System?

Design Systems are toolkits representing every aspect of the entire product ecosystem. They work as toolkits for designers and developers, setting the main rules, design principles, and guidelines for developing products. Using a Design System makes it easier for them to build a digital experience communicating a clear message with the company's values.

According to the experts at Figma, Design Systems must transmit the "What" as well as the "How" and "Why." In other words, what should the product look like? That includes typography, colors, layouts, and other design decisions. It should also indicate the voice and tone. A Design System must describe how the product should look and feel by specifying rules and principles. Finally, the why concerns the product's main purpose and goals.

Bear in mind that this concept goes beyond using design pattern libraries. Design Systems are a collection of guidelines, like technical aspects, design tokens, dark mode visual examples, content structures, processes, tone of voice, documentation, and code snippets. Yes, they normally have code examples. Both designers and developers can access HTML code snippets for individual visual design elements like buttons, icons, logos, and other UI elements, including CSS classes.

Well-organized Design Systems for complex products can include large component libraries for individual components, templates, and UX paradigms. Leading brands like Apple and Google have their Design Systems to help ensure cohesive User Experiences when developing iOS and Android apps.

How to Create a Design System?

As you probably already know, you can't expect a Design System to work for all businesses. Design efforts communicate a message, and not all businesses communicate the same message. That said, you can either try to get the one that best fits your business needs and adapt what you need to or build one from scratch.

Creating an effective Design System from the ground up is way more expensive and time-consuming. Yet, it lets you go the extra mile with customization, allowing you to share unique design decisions to achieve exceptional experiences. But how do you know which one is best for your business?

Let's go back to the example of mobile apps. If designing an app for iOS and Android, you must stick to Apple Human Interface Guidelines and Google's Material Design. Similarly, investing in a new full-fledged Design System may not be cost-effective if you have a startup or a small business. As a result, it would probably be better to adopt an existing one.

Shopify, Adobe's Spectrum, and Atlassian Design Systems are some of the most popular. Conversely, you should consider making your Design System if you have large teams working on a complex, scalable web app. That said, Figma is an excellent option for making a Design System, but there are plenty of other great UX/UI design tools for you.

Design Systems Steps

Design Systems aren't a one-size-fits-all solution, so the process and steps can vary through organizations. Yet, you may want to consider doing it the following way. Start by assessing your current design assets. That includes wireframes and individual components. That will help you spot inconsistencies and build your initial catalog or inventory of components. Consider showing these inconsistencies and other improvement areas to decision-makers if they haven't approved the decision to build a Design System. The next step is to assemble a team of UX/UI Designers, which can include Front-End Developers.

You should designate who will help build the Design System and who will be responsible for the extensive effort of maintaining it. Afterward, you must define the design philosophy from visual guidelines, principles, digital assets, rules, and graphic elements to technical aspects and design resources. You must consider business goals, brand identity, and user needs. Then, you can move on to creating all the required design system components and in-depth visual language. That includes typography, colors, spacing, grids, icons, logos, accessibility considerations, and reusable UI components. Lastly, you want to ensure you document everything and constantly review it for further development.

Why are Design Systems Important?

Up to this point, you should already know why Design Systems are so important. Design Systems make it easy for designers and Front-End developers to create and scale stunning UIs with beautiful experiences. It isn't only about how consistency translates into better quality, looks, and feels. The practicality of having a well-organized Design System streamlines the Product Design process by facilitating team collaboration. Design Systems also come in handy when scaling existing platforms or teaching new designers about company values.

Design Systems work as a shared language or a single source of truth for designers and Front-End developers. That helps to ease the transition of turning a wireframe into a finished product. You can also think of it as a robust toolkit that allows designers to do more and go the extra mile with much less hassle. In a way, it's similar to how developers use Tailwind CSS and Bootstrap.

A Design System is a style guide that gives you a unified language that improves collaboration and reusable components, making upgrading and scaling a product easy. All that translates into helping the company use its resources more efficiently as it provides users with more value.

Final Thoughts

Remember that, as mentioned, even though Design Systems are beneficial, not every digital product needs one. Building, implementing, and maintaining a Design System comes with major challenges. Initially, it will imply spending company resources and waiting for some time to see the Return On Investment (ROI). Again, that may not be ideal for small businesses or startups. 

Experts recommend conducting an audit after spotting some inconsistencies to ensure the need to implement a Design System. Design Systems is a powerful tool to get guidance in context for Product Teams (Product Managers, Product Designers, Software Engineers, etc.) to create consistent experiences for world-class solutions.