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Design System: A Powerful Time- and Cost-Effective Instrument for Consistent Designs

Our Design Partner and Art Director, Tanya, recently conducted a webinar for Adeva – a proficient tech community platform for developers across the globe. The webinar centered around her extensive experience in the provision of UX design services, with a primary emphasis on the design system. During the webinar, she discussed various aspects of the design system, including its history, functionality, and benefits. In case you missed this informative session, we have prepared an exclusive insight into the theme for you. If you prefer videos, we have got you covered, and you can watch the entire webinar here.

The Power of Design System: A Comprehensive Overview

In today’s highly competitive digital market, design is gaining increasing importance as it enhances the user experience by providing excellent visual performance, resulting in the delivery of high-quality products that attract more customers. The rapid advancements in technology and digital progress have significantly increased the number of platforms available for product promotion, making it a burning issue to maintain a comprehensive and consistent appearance across all platforms involved in the company’s performance. One of the solutions to this issue is the employment of a design system. 

It is a series of reusable design elements that come with a set of principles guiding their usage. By using a design system, there is no need to search for the right design decisions through trial and error, as its flexible and changeable components can be applied and reused for any project or platform.

In summary, the significance of design in the digital market cannot be overstated. Employing a design system can help ensure consistency and cohesiveness across multiple platforms, saving time and effort while delivering high-quality products and improving the overall user experience.

Streamlining Your Design Workflow with a Design System

Employing a design system is necessary when setting up a new project or when working with existing products. When designing from scratch, a design system provides all the appropriate elements at your disposal and allows you to customize their features to fit your design thinking. This significantly facilitates the design process and enhances efficiency.

The other path that typically requires a design system is when working with products at scale. As the product grows in complexity, it often requires improvements and changes. The design process evolves slowly and requires numerous tests before implementing the best decision. In this case, it plays a critical role in fulfilling pre-existing requirements while accommodating newly defined ones. With a consistent design language in place, it becomes easier to design products at scale, ensuring coherence in visual perception, user interface, and user experience.

Applying reusable components allows for the seamless scaling of digital products without significant constraints, resulting in a shorter turnaround time. It provides a systematic approach to design that enhances consistency and reduces the need for excessive design iterations. With its implementation, designers can focus on the big picture of the product while ensuring that all design elements work harmoniously to enable a seamless user experience.

From Collections to Cohesion: The Development of Design Systems

The design system has undergone significant changes since its inception and has evolved into a functional and powerful tool over the years. To gain insights into its core principles, it is essential to trace its development back to its roots.

In 1977, architect Christopher Alexander’s book, “A Pattern Language,” introduced the concept of reusable design patterns within architecture. This idea has since expanded into the scope of digital design and has contributed significantly to the development of a design system.

Before the advent of design systems in UI/UX design, designers relied on pattern libraries to build digital products. These libraries contained collections of assets and components that could be combined in various ways. Although powerful, they lacked guidelines on how and where to use them, leading to inconsistency in the resulting designs.

To create a more structured and purposeful design process, designer Brad Frost represented the theory of atomic design in the 2010s. With this theory, design elements were categorized into atoms, which were small and independent components like buttons and icons, and molecules, which were combinations of these atoms, like a search bar. Atomic design introduced a structure upon which designers could more accurately rebuild and reuse design elements.

Material design blended the features of pattern libraries with atomic design principles to create a single visual language that could assist the overall design process and be compatible with all platforms and screen sizes. In addition to reusable patterns, material design also provided guidelines on how and where to use them.

Today, the design system has evolved into an established concept that combines the features of pattern libraries and atomic design principles. Although there is always room for improvement, some elements are considered integral to the design system and have become industry standards.

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Design System Anatomy: Exploring its Structure and Components

Before incorporating a design system into your workflow, it is crucial to understand who should be involved and what components it comprises.

The design system development process involves several stakeholders, including designers, developers, accessibility experts, researchers, product managers, and directors. Each of these parties plays a critical role in ensuring that the design system meets the company’s needs and standards. By working together towards a common goal, the design system helps to align everyone’s efforts and provides a clear vision for the entire team.

A design system structure consists of several essential parts, including components, patterns and principles, and visual language. Components are standalone UI elements that can be reused across multiple projects. They are highly flexible and include a repeatable function and a set of customizable features. By using components, designers and developers can focus more on the design and user experience, saving time and reducing inconsistencies.

Patterns and principles are standards that guide the use of components and their combination to create specific user experiences. By following these guidelines, the team can ensure consistency, reduce bugs, and create a cleaner and more understandable design. Visual language refers to the visual representation of the components that make up a product, including color, typography, spacing, icons, and illustrations. The visual language helps to create a consistent look and feel that aligns with the brand’s identity and enhances user engagement.

For instance, a call-to-action button is a component that has a repeatable function and can be placed on websites and landing pages to guide users towards a conversion goal. The use of established patterns and principles ensures that the button is placed in a prominent position and has a consistent visual language, including color, typography, spacing, and icons.

Design Systems Benefits: Saving Time, Reducing Costs, and Improving User Experience

The design system is a valuable asset to any design project, as it serves as a single source of truth for all parties involved in the process. This significantly reduces discussions and arguments between designers and developers, resulting in better communication and increased productivity.

Designing from scratch is a time-consuming process, but the design system streamlines it by introducing repeatable and reusable elements. These elements are translated into development-ready components that can be used in a live environment right away, resulting in faster builds and saving time and energy on routine work. This allows more time for creativity and innovative designs.

It is particularly helpful in maintaining consistency throughout a project. Each new input into the design process can increase inconsistency, but a component-based system allows designers to think of each page as a set of components. This approach makes it easier to define what elements to use and how to manage them within a specific environment, leading to clean designs and codes with fewer bugs.

In addition to facilitating the current team’s work, having a design system benefits the company as a whole. It provides a better onboarding experience for new hires and serves as a valuable resource for designers and developers to adapt quickly to ongoing projects.

Modern companies employ various channels of the digital ecosystem, making it challenging to maintain a consistent brand image across all platforms. A systematic and repeatable design approach can erase inconsistencies and reduce the risk of a fractured user experience.

In summary, the benefits of a design system include saving time and effort, improving communication, providing a clear-cut approach to the design process, building clean and coherent designs, making onboarding easier, maintaining brand consistency across platforms, and reducing project maintenance.

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The Step-by-Step Guide for Creating a Successful Design System

Design systems are a powerful tool for ensuring consistent branding and visual identity across digital products. Here are the steps to take when embarking on building a design system:

Step #1: Conduct a Visual Audit of Current Design

Before implementing any new features, it is crucial to analyze the current design and identify areas for improvement. This includes examining the website, social media platforms, and any digital or print materials employed by the brand. Conducting a visual audit will help identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current design and enable the team to prioritize areas for improvement.

Step #2: Create a Pattern Library

Once you have analyzed the current design, it’s time to build a catalog of reusable UI components, including patterns, colors, fonts, and icons. A pattern library is an essential part of the design system, as it provides a foundation for the system’s visual language.

Step #3: Establish a Visual Language

The visual language is the core of a design system and shapes the brand’s identity. When establishing a visual language, consider the role of each element within the system. For example, most design systems use just three colors to keep the design simple and not overload it with distractions. Fonts should also be selected carefully to fit the brand’s identity and not solely based on their recognition.

Spacing is another critical aspect of a design system, and using a 4-based scale is now an industry standard. This helps ensure scalability across multiple platforms and leads to a readable, pleasant content disposition. Icons can also be used to mitigate language barriers, helping introduce a visual explanation of the intended action.

Step #4: Document Each Component and Its Function

Documentation principles keep all team members on the same page and ensure consistency throughout the design process. A well-documented design system can guide the team and push them to make the right decisions, ultimately resulting in a more effective and efficient design process.

Design Systems that Work: Essential Features for Success

A good design system should be easily reusable, robust, and well-documented, regardless of its components. However, an excellent design system goes beyond these basic features and offers significant benefits, such as improving the design process, reducing costs and time expenditures, facilitating communication among team members, serving as a directory for the entire team, and supporting the handoff between design and development.

One of the most significant design systems available is Polaris, created by Shopify. Polaris is an excellent reflection of Shopify’s global presence and user-focused approach, emphasizing efficiency and ease of use.

Polaris comprises all the necessary components and even includes an intensive data visualization section and a branch dedicated solely to language, including voice and tone, grammar, and actionable vocabulary.

The core principles of the Shopify design system are unifying designs and driving greater efficiency through well-defined, reusable, and cross-platform components. As a result, businesses can manage global complexity and scale their products without losing direction, thanks to the support of the Shopify design system.

On a Final Note

The design system has come a long way to establish itself as a vital tool within the scope of digital design. It has progressed from mere architecture principles to the theories of atomic and material design, making it a smart and robust instrument today.

With its well-structured and reusable features, the design system makes it easier to create excellent, consistent projects with fewer costs and less time. It acts as a single source of truth for all parties involved in the design process, guiding the workflow in the right direction and ensuring that the design remains on track.

Incorporating an operative design system to complement your overall visual performance is well worth it. However, it is crucial to go through all the necessary steps, starting from carrying out an audit to generating your visual language and ensuring that the patterns are well-documented. This approach will help you build an efficient path to creating impeccable products.

If you still have any questions or doubts, feel free to contact us. Our Design Partner & Art Director, Tanya, will provide you with all the necessary information to address your concerns.

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