Design Systems and the Importance of Building One

No matter how brilliant your product or service is, how tight and streamlined your code, or how dedicated your sales and marketing team, building a consistent design system can possibly be the most important aspect of making your platform successful. We live in the age of the user interface - and everybody from small enterprises to huge multinational corporations are investing in design systems that are consistent, scalable, and easy to use. It may seem obvious, but your user interface is the only aspect of your platform that users will ever see, and a consistent design system will dictate the quality of your user interface. You will have a lot of trouble if your users are not impressed, and they don't find your system intuitive.

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Photo by Karly Santiago / Unsplash

Why are Design Systems Important?

  • Design Debt. Over time, elements of your UI will become outdated, or new standards will need to be met. The extent to which your UI is “locked in” to old design features is called “design debt”. A good design system will allow these elements to be updated and supported as the organization grows and scales.
  • Remove Inconsistencies. Users should be able to navigate through a platform seamlessly without having to reinvent the wheel when moving to different pages or modules. A good design system will immediately get buy-in from users as they can easily adapt to the UI and easily keep up with changes over time.
  • Efficiency. A well planned design system means that you won’t be grinding your gears when it comes to making changes and communicating them across teams. In a way, the design system sets a ‘baseline’ expectation that makes adaptation easy and straightforward.
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What Problems are Solved by Design Systems

  • Process Bottlenecks. It can be frustrating when a design initiative gets caught up due to one minor issue that isn’t easily untangled from the greater process. A design system will anticipate these types of bottlenecks and prevent them.
  • Disorganized Standards. Design systems are a centralized reference point which will dictate standards according to guidelines and other resources. This way, knowledge isn’t lost and work isn’t replicated, and instead can be easily sourced and referenced.
  • Consistency Across Platforms. If the footprint of your technology expands to different hardware, devices, or operating systems, you’ll need to maintain the consistency and focus of your design so that the brand is not diluted. Having a design system at the outset will ensure that all platforms are integrated when it comes to design features.
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What Elements are Contained by Design Systems

  • Visual Design Language. A visual design language includes elements such as colour, typography, size and spacing, and imagery. These are some of the most basic elements when it comes to a consistent design system.
  • UI/Pattern Library. These are actual components of a UI such as buttons, forms, modals, and images. It’s important that these elements remain stable, as they will be a visual starting point for users of the platform.
  • Documentation and Standards. An important element of Design Systems is a repository of all standards and documentation related to your user interface. This can also include templates and other resources. An excellent example for a well documented design system is Carbon by IBM.

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