Design Systems have become essential components for businesses large and small over the past few years, and the development, implementation, and utilization of design systems can be daunting, though, in reality, it relies on basic fundamentals and straightforward practices. So, to start with, what is a design system? Simply put, it's a collection of reusable components that is guided by clear standards that allow the cohesive assembly of variable amounts of applications. It's not just a collection of the components and assets used to build a digital product; it's a nearly infinite set of pieces that can be repurposed as strategies, markets, and trends evolve. Think of it like a box of Lego's™ which are uniform in design but can be assembled into nearly any conceivable structure. A quality design system requires consistency while also maintaining structure and meaning.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what a design system is, let's take a deeper dive into some different foundations within the design system (DS) and alternatives like pattern libraries, UI (user interface) kits, and style-guides.
While a DS contains the complete set of design standards, documents, and principles as well as the UI patterns and code components, these other elements are all part of the DS. The pattern library is a subclass within the DS that is utilized across platforms to maintain a cohesive brand message and style. A style guide is another subclass of the DS, which is the static documentation and description of the DS itself. The style guide is how products should look and feel, use cases for UI patterns, and correct typographic scales. Finally, the UI kit is a collection of graphic files and resources that helps designers build UI's for different applications. These typically include UI components that convey meaning while also providing functionality to users, I.e., buttons, checkboxes, widgets, and progress bars.
At Bright, we strive to provide comprehensive DS services and help teams achieve higher efficiency, consistency, and scalability when creating digital products. Our services encompass everything from typography, color palettes, layout, and code rules. No matter the size of the business, our team creates a single source from which designers are empowered to create consistent user experiences (UX) across platforms, products, and touchpoints. Our DS implementation is not a static document but an evolving eco-system that supports a new, increasingly modular approach to digital product development. Bright allows sales and marketing teams cohesive messaging and brand development through effective DS implementation. Efficient DS's are intended to be scalable, so as your company prepares to expand, your DS is ready.
Having a DS in place closes the gap between designers and UI engineers that are collaborating on multiple products and allows re-creation and duplication to be done by other teams. Effective communication is imperative to allow engineers and designers to focus on addressing bigger issues.
Design systems are best viewed as the single source of truth for every product experience, and an ideal DS is built on a foundation of reusable components guided by certain principles, not a predefined guide of how each page or screen will be designed. This rapidly increases both design and development because an effective DS needs to be balanced, consistent, and scalable. Bright builds design systems that allow developers and designers to use the same available components which increases team productivity by making it more efficient for teams to create an engaging customer experience across different products and platforms, while also allowing them to scale up efficiently.
As businesses are formed or start to expand, it becomes increasingly evident that the need for a well-constructed DS is critical. At its most basic level, if properly implemented, a DS provides a distillation of best design practices and processes, patterns, and components that business owners and their teams utilize to maintain consistency across products and platforms. As products move through organizations, key design components can get lost in translation, and having a robust DS in place is the number one way to ensure consistency. A well-crafted DS saves teams countless hours re-creating detailed design specs, which include all of the variable measurements developers require to create a new screen, page of entire UX flow. If your company is developing multiple products, a DS is one of the best ways to scale your team's output, enabling developers and designers to prototype faster, more effectively, and regularly, while also driving design knowledge to be shared company-wide.
The driving concepts behind DS creation and implementation are the libraries and the documentation; in conjunction, they define the brands' core UX and UI and are similar to visual assets like logos, typography, colors, and grids. The DS also contains UI components and their documentation with code, which facilitates developers using them across existing products. Another way to think of it is a DS is the rules, constraints, and principles that are implemented in both code and design. These elements apply to everything from color, spacing, typography, and layout and also encompass non-visual elements like tone of voice, grammar, lexicon, and audio cues. While all of these components are designed separately, they are combined to create a single source of truth. Like front and back end design, these reusable components are visual, though we have codified their counterparts for consistent use by developers.
The creation and implementation of an effective DS is one of the smartest investments for the future of a company as it decreases the risk of communication breakdowns, which saves a tremendous amount of losses in both productivity and money. A DS is a living product that evolves and transforms alongside a company or product; it isn't a project; it's a product that serves other products. Some may argue that building a robust DS while managing new product features and other requests will slow teams down, which is why utilizing a third party to develop your DS is one of the most efficient ways to gain the benefits of a quality DS while still meeting existing deadlines and product deliveries.
Bright has been providing DS solutions for a number of often international organizations across many industries, allowing them to maintain consistency during their expansion and digital transformation. Without an established DS, even simple design changes can create chaos resulting in the loss of revenue and productivity. By integrating all of your systems into a DS, you can efficiently enact design changes when an update is required. One example that illustrates this point is simple. Your design team has decided to change a text button to make it bolder and encourage more customer engagement. If you have a DS in place, your engineering team simply changes these parameters within the DS, and when this change is pushed online, it's automatically updated across every product that is integrated within your system. In this scenario, there's no necessity for your developers to waste time scrolling through code to update multiple CSS button tags for a button text update. This allows rapid updates and efficient evolution, which can define the viability of a product.
Developers waste countless hours writing and rewriting code logic while designers create new concepts. The non-stop back and forth created in this process are in-efficient, in-elegant, and unnecessary. A properly developed and implemented DS allows for agile, lean product development, and cross-team communication. Another benefit of a DS is that as team members come and go, they essentially have a playbook for reference, which enables efficient consistency and training while maintaining a cohesive product image. This allows new team members to get a strong grasp of a brand's identity, voice, and tone allowing them to better understand your companies unique design language.
One unintended benefit of design systems is that they create transparency while also eliminating bulky knowledge silos, which can lead to back end breakdowns. If one developer or designer holds the key to all of a product's information, it can create an imbalance of power within companies that can, in extreme cases, put an entire product in danger.
One of the most focused examples of effective DS is Apple's Human Interface Design Principles & Guidelines. They started with a laser-focused mission– design Simplicity. Apple's goal was to create products that were simple and intuitive to use immediately. By creating a robust DS, Apple has been able to develop numerous products that have been extremely successful because of their intuitive UI and UX, not just their visual assets. Another prime example would be Atlassian's Design Language, which they define as Design, Develop, Deliver. This straightforward language relies on end-to-end design to create seamless experiences. Or take Google's Material Design, which supports onscreen touch experiences with rich features and natural motions that mimic real-world objects. Each of these DS's are fundamentally the same; they start with a vision and allow for efficient, effective communication between designers and developers. Bright has created a similarly rich design system for numerous platforms, including Amazon Web Services, Cognify, Commercetools, Java, and more.
A successful DS is inherently reusable, though many suffer from a similar issue; team members have created components that are too focused on single case use. This results in systems becoming too inflexible, forcing developers and designers to re-create new components on the fly, which results in a loss of productivity and money. To ensure proper reusability and scalability, a DS requires components to be modular, and self-contained reducing dependencies. Composable components are another requirement as they can be selected and assembled in variable combinations to satisfy specific needs. By combining components, users are able to create new components, which leads to the ability to create new scenarios exponentially. It's important to maintain flexibility within these systems allowing users to adjust or extend components that empower them across all platforms. The consideration involved with introducing a new component always starts with investigating how it will perform across platforms. Seamless performance is key when it comes to developing a robust DS.
Choosing a DS is an important step for all companies, and it's not a simple choice. Because they are not static, design systems require evolution just like products, and companies must adapt and evolve to serve ever-changing markets. They must change with quick development cycles and product development, while also scaling efficiently. It has become crucial for companies to weigh the challenges and benefits of their design and development processes and determine the best solutions to their unique needs. A robust design system is one of the most efficient ways to increase productivity between developers and designers while reducing redundancies, ensuring brand cohesiveness, and increasing return on investment.