User experience (UX) is everything in today’s marketplace. It is one of the biggest determining factors on whether a product will be successful or not. That’s why having a rock-solid design system in place is so crucial to your brand. But remember, not all design systems are created equal. In fact, most of them are missing the most valuable parts.
NN/g summarizes design systems as “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.”
Boil it down and a design system serves as the foundation for designing and developing digital products.
We’ve found that many organization’s have built their design system more akin to a style guide, featuring a collection of components, buttons, colors, text styles, etc. If this sounds familiar, that’s okay! This is a great starting point, but design systems need more meat on the bone. They need a deeper level of thinking, consideration, and documentation to really be effective.
It aligns with business goals and user needs
Take into consideration the needs of your users, as well as the goals of your organization and make sure they are both documented.
Clear guidelines & standards are documented and up-to-date
Be sure to detail intended functionality and use-cases for all components and styles. Guidelines should also be easy to understand and follow, and consistently enforced throughout the organization.
Save time and effort by having a library of reusable components & styles readily available
Your design system must be adaptable to change. It must be able to easily evolve as technology, trends, and your user’s needs evolve.
Convert Advocates to Evangelize Adoption
A design system won’t go anywhere without the right people championing it. You need advocates who can clearly communicate its importance across the entire organization
Ensure developers are establishing corresponding components in code
A common misunderstanding that we hear is that a design system is a visual design artifact—like a Figma file, for example. But unless there is a corresponding system being created in code by a development team, the design system is only half-complete.
Is your product team stretched?
Need to scale your offerings?
Does your process need improving?
Could your product design be more consistent?
Do your users crave a better experience?
No matter how many digital products or services you offer, a design system will improve consistency across *all* of them—regardless of who is working on the project.
When everything is created and maintained around unified design system, users take notice. They find it easier to adopt new features or products and understand how they work. A better experience for them, increased loyalty and brand identity for you. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
Your internal teams will thank you, also. It becomes so much easier for designers and developers to work across multiple projects when they have a single source of truth. Think of it as a shared language between teams.
A well-designed system increases efficiency throughout the entire product design process. Teams no longer need to create one-off components or variations for every single interaction. Instead, they know how and when to reuse existing components and, more importantly, how that fits into the broader system.
Design systems give teams a foundation of patterns, styles, and components to start with—they aren’t constantly recreating the wheel every time. This allows your team to make decisions quickly and confidently, which results in fewer missteps.
And the teams that are building specific products for various audiences and/or platforms can spend more time on custom components and variations for the specific use-cases they are designing for.
Design systems improves collaboration across your entire organization and allows teams to work together seamlessly. It’s not just for designers either. It’s a resource for everybody — engineers, product, marketing, researchers, sales, and any third-party developers or other external partners.
Design and development are now in lockstep, issues can be quickly addressed and resolved, and ideas can be iterated on and prototyped with lightning speed.
This is great for the organization because work silos are broken down and it ensures all products are designed and developed with the same goals in mind. And that means a better user experience.
Design systems are essential to modern product development and once you have one you’re proud of, you’ll wonder how you ever existed without it. They are living, breathing documents that evolve with you and your users over time.
They are the key to creating badass products that your users love, that can easily scale. It’s an investment that will return 10x, sooner than later.
Here are some great resources for you to have on hand when creating a design system.
Want to dive more into creating successful digital products? Check this out.