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Design Systems

The importance of UX/UI design in digital product development is indisputable. However, to make the user interface consistent and true to the brand, you first need to have a design system in place. Here's why doing so is worth the effort and how to do it properly.

In a nutshell

In organizations with multiple products, maintaining design and visual consistency across products is an ongoing effort. Without clear and consistent guidelines, the development of new features or products is challenging, often resulting in legacy products with inconsistent branding and an outdated visual appearance and usability. Design systems solve this problem by providing a clear and organized set of standards to manage design at scale, allowing for growth and a consistent brand expression.

Topics & information overview

Definition

What is a design system

Benefits of using a design system

Building a design system

Five key steps

When not to use it

Which approach to use

Utilizing an open-source design system

Customizing an open-source design system

Creating a custom design system

What is a design system

A design system is a collection of standardized guidelines and components
which helps teams to build products in line with the existing product or company branding.
It encompasses visual language, style guides, examples, template libraries and other
visual elements needed when designing a digital product or its new features.

Benefits of using a design system

01

Easy replication and scalability

Once a design system is in place, applying it to other products is quick and straightforward. It provides a single source of truth for visual components, patterns, and styles used by both the design team and the software engineers who develop the software.
02

Improved UX through visual consistency

Through consistent components and patterns, users know what to expect from an interface and interact with it more intuitively. Confusion and ambiguity are removed, reducing the cognitive load and improving the overall user experience.
03

Consistent branding

The absence of an organization-wide design system causes an inconsistent visual appearance that is difficult to decipher or remember. This could lead to users perceiving the brand identity as fractured, and as a result — less credible. Strong brands have a consistent appearance across all platforms.

Five key steps to building a design system

Choosing a design system approach

A great design system needs to be modular, easily adaptable and scalable.
Depending on the project’s needs, scope and available resources, there are usually
three options to choose from.

01

Utilizing an open-source design system

Using an open-source system is the least expensive way of implementing a design system. This, however, limits the customization and branding options and creates a dependence on the creators of the open-source system, since every change made by the creator will consequently be reflected in your design system.

Best for: enterprise software, less-known software
02

Customizing an open-source design system

Adapting an existing design system allows for more customization and brand expression in the UI while being more cost-efficient than creating a design system from scratch. The key to a great customized design system is finding the right balance between the customization efforts and the incurring costs.

Best for: medium-sized software
03

Creating a custom design system

This option is a time and cost-intensive option but allows for the greatest amount of flexibility and customization, which software with high-profile branding (B2C products), complex user interactions or software for users with special needs often require.

Best for: B2C software, established brands

On a final note

Before starting a new project, it is essential to know what problems need to be solved and what resources are available to solve them. The more tailored your design system solution is, the more time and money it will take to implement. Using an existing design system is thus the lowest-cost approach and requires the least development time, but it comes at the cost of reduced customization and brand differentiation.

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