Design systems are used by industry leaders in technology like Google, IBM, and Salesforce to scale and codify design initiatives across entire organizations. But not just well-known brands use design systems. In a 2020 Forrester survey, 65% of businesses claimed to use one.
A design system, in its simplest form, is a collection of patterns and procedures that assist teams from designers to developers in producing uniform, usable digital products across an organization. Different models can exist, but the majority include a pattern library, design tokens, brand and style guidelines, and instructions on how to utilize the system.
Recently at Pix-Perfect, our design team, led by me, had a prolonged discussion of how we can implement an effective design system for a business, big or small. In this article, I will explain what we discussed and what solution we came up with in that meeting.
To make it easy to understand, I will refer to an imaginary leading e-commerce business that provides XYZ services across the North American continent.
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A new design system for the XYZ services business goes through a number of stages before being implemented. Let’s say we are assigned to create a brand new website and app for them.
Our designers first create a prototype design before giving it to an expert UX researcher for validation, or alpha testing. We then present the prototype to our client. We then release the prototype to a selected group of users and conduct A/B testing to evaluate the impact of the change. This beta testing cycle of learning continues until we achieve a success metric that is high enough. A prototype may go through more than five iterations, with many of them being abandoned in order to find the best option more quickly.
These actions are essential for ensuring that we only distribute top-notch content to our target audience. However, any procedure involving numerous participants and revisions takes time.
As I said earlier, several steps in this workflow are streamlined using a design system. Designers can swiftly search for components and patterns and then drag and drop them into the screen, which allows them to prototype screens in a matter of minutes rather than hours. In any new project, designers from various teams can access shared elements and design aesthetics. Developers, for instance, can write patterns in a platform like Storybook, an open-source program for creating individual UI elements and pages. The efficiency of the design and development teams within an organization can be multiplied, creating real value for the company.
Design solutions must be prototyped, tested with users, approved by the clients, translated into code, and compared to existing (past) designs. Any duplication in the process wastes time, resources, and money. Designers and developers are forced to solve the same issues repeatedly and recreate solutions that already exist in the absence of a central repository for referencing previous work.
The pattern library of a design system is categorized by functionality. Each feature needs to correspond to a single, ready-for-production pattern. That uniform pattern can be used anywhere that functionality occurs in your product. Standardization frees designers and developers from having to repeatedly build the same answers, allowing them to concentrate on new challenges that do not yet have standardized solutions. We use atomic design, a well-known method for developing design systems, as the foundation for our pattern library.
Once we build a design system for the XYZ services website or app, we will be able to concentrate on more significant design issues, such as developing new use cases, carrying out user testing, and revisiting or establishing new user scenarios.
A common language for discussing design is essential for fostering collaboration when designers and developers are working on products simultaneously across an organization. Cross-functional teams can communicate about a company’s product and make design decisions more efficiently by using a common language, which consists of terms, phrases, and naming conventions. A great illustration of a common language that is simple for teams to use and comprehend is the glossary in Google’s Material Design 3.
It won’t work to just create a language and impose it on teams. It is preferable to solicit opinions from all parties involved. When contributions come from all areas of an organization, a common language is most effective. For instance, we heavily relied on the opinions of product designers, user interface designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, content designers, quality experts, and others.
One of its guiding principles emphasizes encouraging team cooperation by giving inclusivity, accessibility, and transparency high priority in its products. A strong design system should include guidelines based on the unique requirements of an organization.
You can think about how each pattern and practice aids in achieving a product’s goal as you build a design system. Each component of the design system aims to reduce cognitive load for the consumers, make it as simple as possible to find and buy services, and ensure that the services available for purchase are accessible and tailored to the user’s location in order to support the e-commerce UX on the XYZ Services website and app.
The likelihood that users will promote products on a website or app increases when they have a positive and smooth user experience.
Prior to developing a design system, we did all the research on the current website and app for the XYZ service. We do that to find out where it lacks. As an example, our XYZ service’s existing website and app lacked consistent patterns and behaviors for each functionality. This required users to pick up new patterns every time they wanted to perform the same action.
We prefer to use the pattern collection in accordance with UI standards like the original Material Design by Google or IBM’s Carbon Design System. Because they present users with an easy-to-use interface that seamlessly completes their duties.
Using this strategy, we will be able to standardize the behavior of each component around widely accepted UI standards. Implementing design patterns that operate in ways that users are already accustomed to decreases their cognitive load in addition to ensuring uniformity across the entire site. As a result, when a person accesses the site for the first time, it seems predictable, familiar, and easy to use.
Although such standardization may appear restrictive at first to the client, but there are competitive advantages that come from the way these components are put together and styled. We must explain this to our client.
Before we create a design system, as part of our research on the past designs for the XYZ brand, we make a list of how many backdrop colors and distinct hues have been used on their website. As a result, those create mixed visual cues and a disjointed brand sense, which have lowered consumer perceptions of a product’s quality.
Product teams can specify and standardize visual components like color, font, spacing, and imagery with the aid of a design system. These components combine to create a visual language that expresses the essence of your brand. A clear visual language can improve how well your product is received.
In order to achieve our goal of making the XYZ Services website appealing and simple to use for all types of consumers, we chose a color scheme that felt sophisticated, energizing, and inspiring. By developing our design system, we were able to choose colors that would reliably and flexibly influence how customers would view the product. Rules for when and how to use the colors in the palette are obviously necessary, as are guidelines for when and how not to use them. There is an illustration from the digital style manual for the University of Oxford that demonstrates the amount of specificity that guidelines can offer.
This is especially helpful because some components have various sizes depending on where they are used in the templates and how they behave within a pattern. A design system makes it simple to examine how the same component functions and appears when it is arranged in various ways.
Around the world, 15% of the population is thought to be disabled. And still more encounter transitory impairments or environmental restrictions, such as the inability to view a screen in direct sunlight. Another aspect of accessibility for global products is localization—ensuring that content is modified for local contexts, including but not limited to language translation. Product teams can incorporate localization and accessible design into each pattern using a design system.
It’s helpful to first understand your target audience and the unique difficulties they might encounter when using your product. So when we do the research for XYZ Services, we try to find
For this reason, we incorporated accessibility characteristics into our design system, such as strong color contrast.
We incorporate localization from the start thanks to a design framework. In order to create a truly cross-cultural experience, these included adaptable design for varied language length and font size, right-to-left language compatibility, and support for local currencies, units, dates, times, and address formats. Our UX writer made sure we had excellent translations and a unified voice in every language. We also decided that each team would contribute to language support, which we incorporate into all new feature releases.
Implementing a design system helps organizations save time and money. These systems’ primary objective is to avoid duplication of effort, which produces high-quality work quickly. For designers and developers, it increases efficiency and results in a satisfying work environment since they can concentrate on solving complex design problems rather than repairing the same problems over and over. By guaranteeing uniformity, recognizability, and accessibility at every touchpoint, design systems also enhance the consumer experience.
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