July 21, 2022

What is a design system in UX?

Design systems are a collection of standards and guidelines for the visual and interaction design of a product. This usually consists of typography hierarchy, color palette, grid system, and more.

A design system is a set of design rules that a brand or a company will follow in order to design a digital experience. This usually consists of typography hierarchy, color palette, grid system, spacing rules, design components, iconography & layout composite.

Why do you need a design system?

Design systems are a collection of standards and guidelines for the visual and interaction design of a product. They make a product easier to use for users, improve the consistency of the brand across screens, and save time for designers, developers, and content authors.

It's no secret that design systems are on the rise, with more companies using them than ever. With the ability to deliver better user experiences and increased efficiency in product development, it's no surprise that companies are adopting design systems as a core part of their product development strategy. This is because the look and feel of a product need to be cohesive across every screen.

The Purpose of Design Systems

The goal of a design system is to create predictability in your products. Predictability can be achieved by providing a common language for the interfaces you build. By creating consistency in the way your team designs products and by creating familiarity with the patterns that repeat throughout your experience, you can create predictability for both users and developers.

Essentially, it makes your work easier. A well-designed design system makes it easy for you to create new products. You don’t have to start from scratch every time; you can use what already exists in the design system to make something new quickly. A design system also serves as a toolkit for the team members who are assigned to build new products. They can draw on the pre-existing elements rather than invent something from scratch. This helps them build better products more quickly.

What makes an effective design system?

A good design system provides guidance on how to create an experience that works for both users and the business goals of your organization—and it does so in such a way that you can easily make decisions about creating positive user experiences, even when you're under pressure or experiencing communication breakdowns with other team members.

Here are some of the things you have to keep in mind when organizing your design system:

  • Consistency
  • Ease of integration with evolving design process
  • Flexibility for fresh ideas
  • Detailed documentation
  • Reusability for repurposing
  • Harmony across all elements

The anatomy of a design system

The basic elements that compose design systems are called atoms. These are the small details that build up a website page, a document or a visual banner for example. This includes colors, typography, shapes, icons, spacing and visual effects.

By taking these atoms together we can form molecules such as buttons, inputs, cards, forms, blocks, modals, etc. The purpose of molecules are meant to be incorporated into the bigger picture of a user interface.

We then have the combinations of molecules that can form organisms. These organisms are presented as headers, dashboard layout, sidebar, footers, etc. These are the forming blocks that will be incorporated in a website, app or a digital product.

Examples of design systems

Below are some of the most recognized design systems from the biggest global brands to serve as inspiration.

  1. Google - Material Design System
  2. Apple - Human Interface Guidelines
  3. Uber - Uber Design System
  4. Shopify - Polaris
  5. IBM - Carbon Design System

A design system is a great tool for a designer to learn about users. Many companies are moving towards this by creating their own UI kits and design elements that can be downloaded and used by their team in other apps. Design systems are especially important for large organizations with teams all around the world, who work on dozens of projects every year. A shared design language allows everyone to speak the same language, agree on the basics, and make sure they are staying consistent as they move forward.

Given this, we encourage you to reflect on your branding elements, the importance, and the benefits of a design system and start thinking about making your own. If you need a list, here are some elements you might need to take into consideration.

  • Components /Functional elements
  • Style Guides
  • Patterns/Templates
  • Guidelines
  • Brand Values
  • Design Mindset