Here’s a simple definition: a design system is a documentation of the exact guidelines that components of a product should comply with. This can be how they look, what they’re made up of and how they should be used.
These systems can be recorded within common design programmes such as Invision, Figma and Sketch, all depending on what you prefer. They can be interactive or stay static, but ultimately they should provide detailed visuals that help create a shared understanding between designers, developers and any other people working on the product.
Each company or brand should ideally have its own unique design system. This helps companies maintain their branding across platforms and creates a seamless experience for users.
Where a set of brand guidelines essentially act as instructions for people working on brand assets, a design system is actually a set of components that have been battle-tested and work responsively across various devices. With a design system, the point is that you solve a UX design problem once and then make sure that it's scalable and adaptable.
There are similarities of course. As with a set of brand guidelines, a design system means more work upfront to save on work in the longer term. Although where they differ is that guidelines create a uniform look and feel, whereas a design system creates consistency across all digital touchpoints, both in how they look and how they're used. So, even though the goals of both are similar, design systems are probably the more effective option if you're looking to improve efficiency in large teams who have to deal with multiple products, apps, or websites.
Generally, a designer will put the original components together and refine the designs until there is an agreed-upon set of guidelines.
Then, for any further projects with this project, if a different designer or a developer needed to get involved, they would have something to reference. They can view the system and would be able to cut and paste the components as opposed to the difficulty of redesigning or rebuilding from scratch.
This makes it easier for collaborations and creates a space to refer back to over time. Of course, the design system can be changed and updated if need be.
For big companies, design systems are an absolute necessity. Imagine having to keep a dozen mobile applications, websites and products all identical and on-brand with hundreds of different people working on them. Pretty difficult, right? A good design system would solve a lot of potential problems.
As we’ve already mentioned, design systems are vital for big companies keeping their branding in check, but they can be useful for a number of other environments.
Design systems are great whether you’re a one-person team, a big team working on separate parts, or if you’re working on a completely new project for an already established company.
For example, you might be part of a team working on a home page. With a design system in place, you can work on one section while someone else in your team works on a landing page, service page or checkout. With a design system, you can work independently yet still achieve a cohesive website with a seamless appearance.
Not only will this speed up the process as a whole, but it also prevents having to go back and redesign aspects that don’t match. Ultimately saving you time and money on projects big and small.
No more having to chase the right person to find out exactly what colour or dimension needs to be used, you can simply consult the design system to find your answers.
Traditionally design systems were made by designers for designers, but as the lines between design and development blur, it’s not unusual for us at Newicon to build a coded component design system as well.
This helps our designers and developers understand the end goal and allows them to work in tandem.
You can view an example of components our designers created, and also access the Invision files to use them yourself.
In previous projects, we’ve taken the idea of components and created a drag and drop design system builder. We wanted to create a CMS, (or more like an interactive library) where you can produce HTML elements that are responsive by nature and then go on to create future digital work using them.
The potential for saving time and money is already a huge benefit of a design system. After all, having something to refer to helps new and existing workers across your company.
It also encourages you to stick to a recognisable style which is an incredibly important aspect of building a digital brand.
So, in conclusion, if you want to help out your designers and reap the benefits of having a consistent product with a lot less hassle, you need a design system in place!
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