What is a design system, what to include, why do you need it, and how do you build one? There’s so much to explore when we talk about design systems. One thing is for sure: having a comprehensive design system will benefit you and your business.

Moreover, a survey by Forrester in 2019 found that 50% of design professionals say that their companies are already using a design system. So let’s begin to deep dive more into this topic, shall we?

Design System
Source: https://blog.prototypr.io/pattern-library-style-guides-design-systems-do-you-need-one-b7857af0f255?gi=3f0c20931cd8

What is a design system?

A design system is a complete set of reusable design patterns, guided by clear principles, that can be assembled together to build a design at scale. It gives designers and other cross-functional teams a shared guideline so that they can create a consistent design across multiple platforms.

Design System
Source: https://atomicdesign.bradfrost.com/chapter-4/

Think of a design system  just like a LEGO. Remember as a kid when we played LEGO, building brick by brick, and in the end, we had a whole building? The bricks were readily available, but there were an infinite number of ways to put them together. We could build a building, a castle, a car, and many more.

And that’s similar to how a design system works. Even though there are already components and guidelines available in the system, we can assemble them in multiple ways, depending on the context and purpose. Simply put, since we already have the base, we don't need to start from scratch each time we want to build a new design.

What makes up a design system?

There are no exact rules about what you should put in your design system. However, some components that are commonly available in a design system are:

Design principles

Design principles are at the core of the entire design system. Every component of the design system should be based on these principles since it is a reflection of the company's values.

Design System
Source: https://spectrum.adobe.com/page/principles/

For instance, Adobe has a design system called Spectrum, which has 3 principles: rational (based on real-world situations), human (places customers' needs first), and focused (deliver what’s needed, when it’s needed).  Therefore, every element of the design they produce should be based on research and testing, accessible to all users, and free of unnecessary details or irrelevant content.

Style guide

For instance, color palette, icon, typography principle, layout, spacing system, etc. 

Design System
A style guide we created for Bananas, an Indonesian quick commerce

Component library

A collection of focused components, such as buttons, links, input fields, checkboxes, and many more.

Design process guidelines

A guideline on how to use or interpret the design principles, style guide, and components in the various applications.

Why do we create a design system?

A design system can be your team’s north star, showing the direction in which your design is going. It can be used for a quite long period of time, but of course you can always update them, too. Here are more other reasons why do you need one:

It speeds up the design process

With a design system, you won’t have to start from scratch every time you want to create something new. Instead, you can take something from the libraries of design elements and adjust it to meet your current needs. This will undoubtedly speed your work and prevent you from obstructing progress.

It maintains consistency across platforms

When it comes to building a brand, consistency is important. This includes maintaining consistency in the creation of digital products.  Inconsistency will only confuse users and disturb the user’s experience. 

Design System
Source: https://uxdesign.cc/design-principle-consistency-6b0cf7e7339f

However, building consistency is not an easy process, especially when it’s on a large scale. In fact, according to a UXPin survey, improving consistency is the biggest challenge facing 3,157 UX, product, and engineering professionals from B2B companies worldwide. To overcome this challenge, they state that what they need is a design system.

It leads to a better team collaboration

A design system is like a shared language among the designer team and also between the designer team and other teams, such as engineers. As you already have the foundation, you can collaborate more effectively and cohesively afterwards. It will save your team’s time, energy, as well as cost. 

It improves the user experience

The user experience will be enhanced by a product that is well-designed, simple to use, and consistent.  They will get used to your product and can easily use it. Every digital product you create is like a direct extension of your brand and business. Therefore, the experience your users have with your product will contribute to how they view your business.

How do you build a design system?

Translate the company’s vision into design principles

Each company has a vision that they want to deliver to its customers. One way to present it is through design. You must therefore be able to translate the abstract vision and mission into concrete design principles.

For instance, Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. The four design principles of unified, universal, iconic, and conversational are then used to translate that objective. In other words, they want to create a design system that can work across devices, be accessible to everyone, and communicate with their users in a simple manner.

Design System
Source: https://www.designsystems.com/5-tips-from-an-airbnb-designer-on-maintaining-a-design-system/


A design system will be a guide across cross-functional teams. Thus, the creation process should be done collaboratively by the team members from various roles. 

After that, go over your product and all of its various design components. From there, you may create a catalog of UI elements and visual components that will serve as your design system's building blocks. By cataloguing, you can also detect inconsistencies or parts that require improvement.

Make a guideline on how and when to use the design elements

With no guideline, all you have is just a collection of design elements. It will confuse the team, too. Therefore, make sure to develop a set of guidelines that everyone can follow for how to apply or interpret the design principles, style guide, and components in various contexts.

Test your design system

Building a design system is not a one go process. It is an iterative one, and when it’s done, you can also conduct a trial test for at least 3 months to see if everything works well. 

A good design system is something necessary to have as it brings many benefits to your company. It may take time to build one, but it will be very useful in the long run.

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