The Emergence of Design Systems

Unlocking Efficiency and Innovation: How Design Systems Redefine Product Development

For the longest time, design has been tailor-made to address a particular problem. Therefore, it has largely been accepted that design is hardly ever scalable. What’s more, bespoke design is often inconsistent and slow and presents incredible challenges when it comes to its maintenance. This is what has led to the emergence of design systems.

A design system is an exclusive source of truth throughout the development cycle made up of a cluster of reusable components that teams require to create many different products. Design systems are designed to help teams create better products in shorter timeframes. They do this by making design reusable and scalable.

Why Are Design Systems Important

The importance of design systems revolves around the need for design scalability, efficiency, and consistency. Imagine a scenario where a company has been designing a product over a period of, say, ten years. During that time, many different individuals and teams have worked on the different parts of the product.

Over time, their different approaches will create inconsistencies in the product. The inconsistencies will most likely be even more pronounced if the product is designed for different devices and platforms. The result: a disconnected user experience. To put it simply, therefore, design systems come to bring order to chaos creating a highly structured and well-defined path to building product solutions.

By using design systems, companies can outpace their competition to deliver new products without compromising the quality of their offerings. Similarly to how businesses today are using artificial intelligence tools to boost revenue, companies are using design systems to improve their products and solutions towards increasing revenue.

Design systems also offer consistency which in turn makes the company’s products feel legitimate and usable. Companies that have embraced design systems can now innovate, scale, and react with speed to changes in the market while delivering applications consistent with their brand image.

The Elements of a Design System

Design systems have, essentially, replaced and metamorphosized from graphic guidelines. Compared to graphic guidelines, design systems are more mature and easier to incorporate into teams’ workflow.

Elements of a design system include:

  • Content – Design without content amounts to nothing more than decoration. For successful design outcomes, therefore, content must precede design. Content and design are intertwined and parallel systems of communication that depend on each other if product interfaces are to scale together in a manner that creates an effective and consistent product experience.
  • Colors – Every design system requires one to three primary colors that are the best representation of your brand. You can also incorporate a range of shades and tints to offer designers more than a few options.
  • Typography – When it comes to typography, less is better. This is why the majority of design systems you will come across have just two fonts. One font is used in body copy and headings while the other is used for the code. By complicating your typology with too many fonts, you run the risk of confusing and overloading users in addition to causing performance issues.
  • Sizing and spacing – Today, 4-based scales have become quite popular because of their use in ICO size formats, Android and iOS standards, and standard font size in most browsers.
  • Imagery – When it comes to imagery, the best approach is to set guidelines for icons and illustrations and ensure all teams strictly stick to those guidelines.

Successful Design System Examples

Material Design by Google

Material Design has evolved from a design language to an adaptable UI-focused design system complete with components, tools, and guidelines to facilitate collaboration between developers and designers.

Polaris by Shopify

Polaris is designed for the Shopify platform to help the platform’s merchants create improved user experiences. Polaris design system includes sections for components, patterns, design, and content. The content section includes guidelines for grammar, tone of voice, and even copywriting tips.

Airbnb Design

The Airbnb Design System uses advanced techniques to create a collection of components, each with its own function and personality. Airbnb gives its hosts insights into its design system to help them improve their hospitality solutions. The Airbnb design system allows individual components to singly evolve or work with other components within its larger, expanding ecosystem.

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