Creating a Design System for Consistent User Experiences

In order to reach your target audience, you need to build an identity. A brand. This isn’t going to happen if all your products look and work as if they belong to different companies. In the olden days, before the advent of internet marketing, a graphic charter would do the trick. This blueprint would set rules regarding the graphic identity of a project or a business.

Today, when all sorts of hardware and software is an integral part of the equation, you’ll need a lot more. No one wants a disruptive experience. Graphic and functional unity is practically mandatory, and this is where design systems enter the picture.

What is a design system?

A design system is a collection of standards and patterns that help manage design at scale. These collections consist of resources, tools, and code — collectively referred to as reusable components. In the broadest sense of the word, the components can include typeface, color schemes, layouts, and other graphic standards.

However, there is also an element of functionality to consider. That is why they also include software design, functional features such as plugins, and even AI-based apps. The main goal of design systems is to produce consistent, high-quality experiences across a range of products while avoiding user fatigue.

Why do you need it?

Design systems have become a necessity. They help streamline work and create a singular design language. Serving to guide development, these blueprints can offer both an enticing visual presence and supreme functionality.

If we go back to our hypothetical fitness-oriented company, we can see how gadgets and apps that look similar create a unified brand front. They must also be mutually compatible, leaving users with a seamless and pleasant experience.

The benefits go on to include the ability to create and replicate assets quickly and efficiently. If you’re using pre-made user interface components, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. You’re basically creating a unified language for a global development team which, in turn, puts less strain on design resources. Think of it as an educational reference for junior-level designers and new contributors — a great way to avoid developer burnout.

Are there any downsides to design systems?

A few challenges are likely to appear along the way, but these shouldn’t discourage you. They are a normal part of the creative process, and it’s important to be aware of them. Building and maintaining a design system is a time-intensive activity that requires a dedicated team to keep it going. You will also need to create an instruction manual for future contributors. Definitely not a one-and-done sort of arrangement.

According to research by the University of Houston, 67% of all expenses related to digital business belong to maintenance. Design systems are no exception. They require a dedicated group of people to keep them running. Your team should include an interaction designer, a visual designer, and a developer. This, obviously, can bring up the costs of running your business.

What is it made of?

Already considering making one for your company? Before your team gets to work, you should know the core elements of design systems. One is the people, the team we have just mentioned. The other is the design repository. The former is quite obvious, but what’s the latter all about? That’s all the stuff that goes into the actual system. It consists of three equally important parts.

Style guide

This is where all the design principles and implementation guidelines live. The category covers a good deal of ground. It begins with visual references to create consistent branding (colors, fonts, logos, etc.) moving on to tone of voice in copywriting. The guide also sets the rules in interaction design standards for developers working on software.

Component library

Think of it as a one-stop shop for developers. It houses predetermined, reusable user interface (UI) elements. When building such a reference library, make sure to catalog the elements correctly (by name, description, attributes, code snippets, etc.).

Pattern library

While the component library houses individual UI elements, pattern libraries serve as depositories for clusters and collections of such elements. This includes content structures, groupings, templates, and layouts. Developers can reuse and adapt any of these as necessary.

Adopt or create?

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to create your own design system from scratch. Ready-made open-source options do exist. A smaller team can adopt, adapt, and implement them. Creating a custom system, however, is something you’ll need a larger crew for. The process includes a number of standardized steps you ought to follow.

  1. Begin by conducting extensive research and clearly defining your goals.
  2. Become familiar with the most common design patterns.
  3. Establish patterns.
  4. Design a clear hierarchy of elements.
  5. Focus on consistent actions in the product.
  6. Generate product components (structure, brand consistency, appropriate user defaults).
  7. Aim for consistent communication.

Before making a choice between adopting and creating, consider the scale and replicability of your projects. Also, take note of resources and time available.

Are design systems worth it?

Following these steps (and being consistent with them) can bring about great benefits in the long run. Design systems are not a one-off gimmick. They are a long-term solution. Their implementation can help operationalize and optimize your design and development efforts.

Offering unity and coherence, they are a trend in digital acceleration that is only gaining momentum. Design systems have the power to educate team members, streamline work, and solve complex problems.