Blog Index

The Power of Design Systems

Apr 7, 2022
Creative and Branding / Digital Marketing
by Sydney Frenkel
The Power of Design Systems

Design Systems bridge the gap between designers and engineers who work on a variety of products and frequently re-create work done by other teams. Communication between designers and developers is critical for improving the project process, saving time and cost. It can also help to increase platform consistency, create more intuitive products, and free up designers and developers to work on greater issues. In short, Design Systems are lifesavers.

A Design System is a set of pre-built, reusable assets—components, patterns, instructions, and code—that enable users to create consistent digital experiences more quickly. For your product experience, Design Systems become the sole source of truth. Driven by specific concepts, an ideal design system is constructed with these reusable components that operate as a prescriptive guideline of how each page or screen should look. It must be balanced, consistent, and scalable in order to make the design and development processes more efficient. When both designers and developers can use the same available components, developing a unified customer experience across products can help to scale efforts across multiple platforms. Big Drop’s Senior Director, James Weiss, stated the following:

To be clear, there is a distinction between a brand’s style guidelines and its design system. The former predominantly encompasses the intangible aspects of identity and value proposition communication, while the latter is an influenced by-product of the former. Further, design systems validate and channel visual identity to provide a practical way for a brand to make use of its visual elements. And, when the many people behind the brand can work off the same foundation, imagine how far that brand can go!”

Design Systems, like IBM’s Carbon, employ pre-built and universal assets to reduce the number of time teams spends creating and building. They can use that time tailoring their products to fit individual customer use cases rather than constructing and re-building basic pieces.

Design Systems Advantages

Work in design (and development) can be developed and replicated quickly at a large scale.
The capacity to swiftly recreate ideas using preset UI components and elements is the fundamental value of design systems. Teams can reuse the same pieces over and over again, decreasing the need to create net-new components and thereby reducing the danger of unintentional inconsistency.

It frees up design resources to concentrate on larger, more difficult challenges.
Because basic UI elements have already been produced and are reusable, design resources can focus on solving more complicated challenges rather than refining visual appearance (like information prioritization, workflow optimization, and journey management). While this benefit may appear insignificant when only a few screens are created, it becomes important when dozens of teams and thousands of screens are involved.

It establishes a common language among and throughout cross-functional teams.
A single language eliminates wasted design or development time caused by miscommunications, especially when design responsibilities shift or teams grow geographically distributed.

It ensures that products, channels, and (perhaps segregated) departments all have the same look.
The absence of an organization-wide design system can result in uneven visual appearance and experiences that appear fragmented or unrelated to the brand, especially when teams work in silos, where each product or channel functions independently of the others. Design systems connect disparate experiences by providing a common source of components, patterns, and styles that make them visually harmonious and appear to be part of the same ecosystem. Any big visual rebranding or redesigns can be managed at scale through the design system as an added advantage. Big Drop’s Creative Director, Nic Casey, says:

From visuals to messaging, the key to the success of any brand ecosystem is consistency. Design systems protect against brand dilution when working across multiple teams and mediums, which is more important than ever in our new global remote paradigm. Having a well-curated design system empowers teams to rapidly deploy scalable solutions, increasing efficiency and freeing up time to focus on more pressing initiatives.”

 

For junior-level designers and content producers, it can be used as a teaching tool and a reference.
Individual contributors who are new to UI design or content development can be onboarded with explicit use instructions and style guides, which also serve as helpful reminders to the rest of the contributors.

Design System Team

A design system is only as good as the people who run it. Whether established or adapted, design systems require ongoing maintenance and management to avoid becoming outmoded, obsolete, or overburdened with redundant inputs or submissions. Because design systems come in a variety of sizes and levels of customization, the size of the team responsible for its continued implementation can vary, but at a minimum, should include one interaction designer, one visual designer, and one developer, who will help write interaction-design guidelines, create visual examples, and provide code snippets and implementation specifications for each element. If these positions are explicitly defined in your organization, the team should additionally comprise a part-time researcher, architect, and content writer.

Leaders of Design Systems: Who’s Getting It Right

Google

When Google’s engineering and design teams began actively determining how they might utilize systems to organize their work in the early 2000s, they dug deep. Google released Material, a design extension that earned the company a new reputation for its thinking and approach to design.

Unlike most modern design systems, which serve as internal team guidelines, Google made it clear that Material was for everyone, everywhere. Developers and designers jumped at the chance, swiftly integrating the ready-made designs and animations to hundreds of thousands of interfaces and apps, and utilized Material as a jumping-off point to build their systems.

Today, Google’s Material Design makes it simple for developers and designers to create beautiful interfaces and apps, but the firm has hinted that the next version of its design system will focus on the other half of the equation: feel.

IBM

Carbon is IBM’s open-source product and digital experience design system. Working code, design tools and resources, human interface principles, and a thriving community of contributors make up the application, which is built using IBM’s Design Language.

The design system is a distributed effort, guided by the principles of the open-source movement. Carbon’s users are also its makers, and everyone is encouraged to contribute. It’s designed and built to be inclusive and accessible to all. Carbon is also modular and flexible. The system’s modularity ensures maximum flexibility in execution. Its components are designed to work seamlessly with each other, in whichever combination suits the needs of the user. Based on the IBM Design Language, every element and component of Carbon was designed from the ground up to work elegantly together to ensure consistent, cohesive user experiences.

Final Thoughts

Many components, patterns, styles, and rules make up design systems, which can help you operationalize and improve your design efforts. People, on the other hand, plan, manage and implement them. When building a design system, the scope and replicability of your projects, as well as the resources and time available, are the most important aspects to consider. Design systems can become large collections of components and code if created and maintained incorrectly; but, when handled well, they can educate team members, expedite work, and empower designers to tackle challenging UX problems.

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