What is a Design System in the creation of digital products?

Warsaw, 22. May 2024

A design system is more than just a style guide or ready-made components – it primarily contributes to increasing user engagement.

In today’s rapidly changing digital world, consistency and efficiency in design and delivery determine whether a product will succeed. A design system, known as a Design System, is becoming increasingly important, especially for organizations that want to improve the process of creating and managing their products. But a Design System is not just a set of tools, code snippets, or simply a style guide. It’s something more: a thoughtful strategy that allows you to create digital products that not only look great but also scale easily and reduce implementation time.

Maintaining a strong brand identity through visual representation, tone, and voice across different mediums is crucial for making a brand unique and recognizable.

In the following guide, we want to show what a Design System is, what it consists of, and the best practices for implementing it. We present how they can transform your organization’s approach to implementing and developing digital products. Google’s Material Design, is an example of a system that ensures visual consistency and uniform user experiences across different platforms, from Android mobile applications to websites like YouTube, Google Photos, and Google Maps. Design principles (patterns) are key to ensuring consistency and efficiency in creating digital products.

Design principles (patterns) are key to ensuring consistency and efficiency in creating digital products.

What is a Design System?

Is a Design System a component library?

A Design System can be defined as an organized set of rules, constraints, and principles applied to the design and construction of applications and websites.

It is more than just a component library of reusable ui elements or style guides. A Design System is a kind of “manual” for an organization that defines how its digital products should look and function. In short, it is a set of rules, guidelines, and ready-made, reusable design elements that help design and development teams create consistent and efficient applications, websites, or other digital interfaces. Thanks to it, all products within the ecosystem look and operate uniformly, making them more user-friendly (due to the reuse of tested and optimized patterns) and easier to manage and maintain.

Key Elements in a Design Systems

Every complete Design System consists of at least the following three artifacts, which together form a solid foundation:

  1. Design Library (Visual Styles, Components, Design Patterns)

This documentation is a treasure trove of the visual identity of our products. It defines colors, typography, icons, and other graphical elements that are responsible for the aesthetics of the projects. However, it’s not just about the appearance – these meticulously crafted resources ensure that every element of our products reflects the character and values of the brand. This ensures visual consistency across various platforms and devices and helps in building intuitive, optimized user interfaces. A well-defined design language helps in creating a visual language that reflects the brand’s identity. The most popular tool currently used for creating design libraries is Figma.

2. Developer Library (UI Components)

This contains ready-made code, detailed documentation, and specifications of components that are reusable and easy to implement. It includes everything from buttons to form elements that can be freely combined to create complex yet consistent interfaces. This allows developers to focus on creating innovative solutions, confident that the basic and more complex elements of the Design System are already optimized for performance and functionality.

Schemat podstawowych elementy w design systemie: 1. Biblioteka projektowa (Style wizualne, Komponenty, Wzorce projektowe) 2. Biblioteka deweloperska (Komponenty UI) 3. Dokumentacja ogólna (Wytyczne projektowe)
  1. General Documentation (Design Guidelines)

This is a detailed set of rules regarding the use of components and styles, which also includes guidelines on usability, accessibility, and user interactions. Additionally, the Design System documentation includes a set of design and development tools, which contains code libraries, plugins, templates, and other resources that support the design and implementation process. These materials are invaluable in creating consistent and functional products, facilitating the work of designers, developers, and other team members. A pattern library, which is a collection of specific design patterns or standard solutions to common design problems, is also an essential part of this documentation.

These three artifacts together form a complete foundation on which product teams can build advanced, efficient, and consistent digital solutions.

Visualization of the Most Common Mistakes Addressed by a Ready-Made System

What Problems Do Design System Address?

Lack of Visual Consistency in brand identity

As companies grow and create more digital products, they may encounter the problem of maintaining a uniform look and functionality. Products can appear fragmented and unprofessional, which can confuse users and lower their trust in the brand. The Design System is designed to ensure visual consistency and uniform user experiences across the entire organization’s ecosystem. A robust design system provides consistency, scalability, and flexibility, making it easier to maintain a cohesive and efficient design process.

Large Amounts of Time Spent on Design and Development

Design and development teams often spend a lot of time creating elements with identical functionality for different projects. This makes the work less efficient and more costly, especially when it leads to delays in project schedules. Implementing a design system also enables faster onboarding of new employees, significantly reducing the time required for their integration.

Difficulties in Scaling Products

As new features are added or the scope of existing products is expanded, companies may encounter technical difficulties related to integrating new solutions. This can lead to errors, compatibility issues, and other technical obstacles that hinder effective scaling. New products within the organization, however, receive a set of ready-made elements and solutions that they can rely on from the very start of work, reducing delivery and implementation time.

Frequent Errors and Low Product Quality

Without established standards and guidelines, projects can become inconsistent, increasing the risk of errors. These errors not only affect the functionality of the products but can also negatively impact conversion rates and overall user perception.

Long Product Time-to-Market Cycles

Lengthy design and development processes can delay the introduction of new products to the market. In a dynamically changing business environment, where the speed of response to market needs is crucial, such delays can be costly and cause a company to lose its competitive edge.

How is a Design System Implemented?

Implementing a design system is a process that requires commitment and real collaboration between different departments within the organization. To ensure that the design system truly facilitates and improves daily work, several steps are necessary:

  1. Inventory

    The first step is to review and assess the currently used resources and methods. This is the time to evaluate what is already working well and what could be improved or completely changed. It is also worth considering updating and refreshing the graphic style of the mobile application to ensure a modern and functional design for the daily use of thousands of users. Creating and using your own design system can meet specific organizational needs and streamline design efforts.

  2. Creating Guidelines

    Once we know what we have, we establish the guidelines that will be the foundation for all products within the organization’s ecosystem. These guidelines help maintain consistency and high quality in the work carried out. It is also important to link the template library with code elements, which facilitates programming work thanks to ready-made code snippets and downloadable materials.

  3. Designing and Documenting Components and Styles

    We move on to specifics — designing, implementing, and thoroughly documenting components and design patterns. These will later be used by product teams.

  4. Implementing the System

    Now it’s time for the most important part — ensuring that every team feels confident with the new system and is prepared to use it. This stage involves training, discussions, and providing support because change, although beneficial, always requires time for adaptation.

  5. Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

    A design system is never “finished for good.” It must evolve to meet changing business needs and user expectations. We regularly conduct reviews and updates, analyzing results and user feedback.

In practice, for a design system to really work, more than just technical know-how is needed. The organizational culture, which emphasizes collaboration, openness to change, and continuous improvement, is very important. Success depends on the commitment of everyone — from project leaders to developers and designers.

Design team working on Implementing a Design System

Benefits of a Design System for Brand Identity

Implementing a design system in practice brings numerous benefits. Primarily, it ensures the visual and functional consistency of all the company’s products and services. This means that regardless of the platform or device, users experience continuity and can intuitively navigate through various elements of the offering. Implementing a Design System increases user engagement by offering a consistent visual style, easy navigation, and well-researched, effective scenarios, which translates into higher conversions. It is also important to use the Design System to ensure consistency across all digital projects by applying predefined elements. Showcasing popular design system examples can serve as models for building coherent and on-brand interfaces, highlighting the impact of successful design systems.

Efficiency is another significant advantage. Standardizing reusable components and guidelines significantly speeds up design and implementation processes and reduces the need for constant oversight. Teams can focus on innovation and creativity, confident that the basics are already solidly established and developed.

Collaboration between designers and developers (and beyond) becomes easier and more effective. A common language and understanding of project goals eliminate communication barriers and promote more effective problem-solving.

Finally, the scalability and adaptability of the Design System allow for easy implementation of changes and product expansions without risking the loss of consistency, quality, or conversions.

All of this leads to an increase in the company’s competitiveness in the market, improving the offering in response to changing customer needs, and building a stronger and more recognizable brand.

Working on a Design System - A Design System Facilitates Easier Collaboration Between Different Teams

In Summary

A design system is more than just a set of tools. It is the foundation of any digital strategy, which not only makes life easier for distributed teams but also keeps the entire project in a single, consistent, organization-wide accessible repository. Implementing such a system speeds up project work, improves the quality of final products, and ensures that users enjoy better experiences. It is an investment that brings long-term benefits, facilitating resource management and helping to build a strong, recognizable brand.

Frequently asked questions?

What is an example of a design system?

An example of a design system is Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), which provide a comprehensive set of best practices and principles for designing user interfaces that are consistent and intuitive across Apple’s platforms, including iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. HIG covers various aspects such as visual design, interaction design, UI components, pattern libraries, layout, organization, and accessibility, ensuring that apps are user-friendly and accessible to all. It also includes downloadable resources like templates and icons, and integrates with tools like UXPin to streamline the design process, ensuring adherence to Apple’s design standards.

What is the role of the design system?

The role of a design system is to provide a unified framework of standards, guidelines, and reusable components that ensure consistency, efficiency, and quality across digital products within an organization. It helps maintain visual and functional coherence, streamlines the design and development process, facilitates collaboration between teams, and supports scalability and adaptability. By using a design system, organizations can deliver a cohesive user experience, reduce duplication of effort, and accelerate the time-to-market for new products and features.

Is Figma a design system?

Figma is NOT a design system itself, but it is a powerful tool that supports the creation, management, and implementation of design systems. It provides a collaborative platform where designers and developers can build and share reusable design components and assets, ensuring consistency and efficiency across projects. By using Figma, teams can easily maintain and update their design systems, fostering a cohesive design approach throughout an organization.

What is material design?

Material Design is a design system developed by Google that provides a comprehensive set of guidelines, components, and tools for creating visually consistent and user-friendly digital interfaces. It emphasizes a clean, modern aesthetic with principles like bold graphics, intentional white space, and responsive animations. Material Design includes detailed specifications for layout, typography, color schemes, and interactive elements, ensuring a cohesive user experience across various platforms and devices. It aims to create intuitive and accessible designs that enhance user engagement and usability.

How long does it take to create a design system?

The time required to create a design system can vary significantly depending on factors such as the project’s scope, the team’s size, and available resources. Typically, it can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to develop a comprehensive design system. This process includes several stages: inventory and assessment of existing assets, defining guidelines and principles, designing and documenting components, and implementing and testing the system. Additionally, continuous iteration and updates are necessary to keep the design system relevant and effective as the organization and its products evolve.

Małgorzata Dolińska-Amrozik - Product Designer

Thinking of implementing a Design System?

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