If you ever had to deal with a new designer joining your team or a client making last-minute changes to a product, you’ll get the importance of sharing a common understanding of key design elements in delivering a consistent visual experience. Design systems are a good foundation for achieving this.
What on earth are Design Systems? Continue reading to find an answer to your question and to learn how they can help keep your branding consistent across products and platforms!
What are Design Systems?
In short: Design Systems are a type of guide or rule book aimed at bridging the gap between designers and developers. A good Design System defines important UX and UI elements, such as typography, colour themes, layouts and of course design components and visual assets.
These can be assembled together to build any number of websites, applications or products to help brands implement their digital strategy. A strong Design System also includes code snippets that’ll facilitate the work of developers using them.
Design Systems Bring Order to Chaos
This is useful in more than one way. They help design and development teams build products that are consistent in their appearance. Since they only contain approved assets, they also expedite the design and development process.
In doing so, they increase team productivity and output, enable a great customer experience and reduce the likelihood of having to answer redundant questions and Slack messages asking:
- What is the optimal spacing between buttons?
- What size font do we use for headlines?
- What is doable from the developers’’ perspective?
There are several ways to represent a Design System and make it accessible to your team.
You can use design software such as Sketch, Invision, or Figma or interactive tools like Storybook or Zeplin, which are often favoured by developers. Whatever you pick, make sure that your Design System is accessible to the design software commonly used by you.
If you need a little bit of inspiration, check out the following, publicly accessible Design Systems:
- Apple: Their Human Interface Guidelines offer in-depth information and UI resources for designing apps.
- Airbnb: Find out why Airbnb invested in a better way to build and how they created their Design Language System. See a snippet of their design system below.
- Material io: A library of guidelines, components, and tools that support the best practices of user interface design. Need we say more?
What’s the Difference between UI and UX?
UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) design are two terms that are often confused. UX and UI rely on each other, and there is quite a bit of overlap between the two – but they are not interchangeable! You probably already know this, but we think it doesn’t hurt to revisit some of the basics now and again.
UX prioritises design solutions that enhance the end user’s interaction with the company and its products. UX is all about understanding the user journey and what elements can be used to improve the user experience. UI, on the other hand, focuses on looks and style of the visual layout of a website or application, in other words: The surface of the product.
Whilst the UX designer asks: “How does the user feel when they’re using the software?”, their UI counterpart wants to know: “How can we make the interface more attractive and visually-stimulating?” At the end of the day, UX and UI designers work collaboratively in a team, focused on a common goal: Meeting the user’s needs and expectations.
If you’d like to know more about UX and UI design, we recommend reading this easy-to-digest primer by UX Planet, explaining the difference between the two and their application in the field. It’s a good place to start!
Why a Brand Guide Doesn’t Cut it
You might say: “I already have a brand and style guide. Isn’t that enough?” It’s definitely a good start! When your team is small, your company is brand new or you’ve just hired a digital marketing agency, investing in design systems can feel like an unnecessary luxury.
Unfortunately, too many businesses operate without functioning design systems and consequently keep making the same mistakes again and again. The thing is, you absolutely don’t need to: Design systems document your lessons-learned so you’re smarter the second time around. And more: They record in detail what a product should look like, what components it’s made of and how those components work together. So even if you’ve got a new designer working on your project, they’ll know exactly what is expected of them.
What are the Benefits of using Design Systems?
Design Systems make the creation process of digital products much faster and hopefully, less complicated. They provide a centralised, easy to navigate, and evolving design guide to a brand’s products and applications. Which is a tremendous help in the development stage, too. Design Systems not only reduce chaos and make your team’s life easier, they also improve web accessibility.
The big advantages of Design Systems include:
- Efficiency: Designers and developers do not have to make designs from scratch. They can just grab already designed or built components from a library. It reduces the time needed for design and development significantly.
- Scale: Increased efficiency allows you to build products at scale.
- Consistency: Design Systems introduce principles and rules to build components. This reduces friction and makes it easier to create consistent experiences.
- Less room for errors: Designers don’t need to sweat the small stuff and can focus on the bigger picture: Creating a great user experience and interface. Developers implement approved and well-tested components from the Design System into the source code without having to worry about it breaking the environment.
If you’re still not convinced, check out Diana Mounter’s neat video “Design Systems, when and how much?”, explaining the resources it takes to build and maintain them and how they can improve your team’s design and development workflow.
If you have any worries, concerns or questions on how to get started with your own Design System, get in touch with us! We’d love to hear from you!