What is a design system?

A design system is more than just a buzzword in the realm of UI/UX design; it’s a pivotal framework that shapes the way digital products are created and maintained. Design systems have become an integral part of the digital design process. They offer numerous benefits, including improved efficiency, consistency, and collaboration.

That being said, what is a design system exactly?

At its core, the answer to the question “what is a design system?” is a comprehensive set of standards and guidelines, encompassing everything from visual elements to coding practices. Its significance in the modern digital landscape cannot be overstated, as it ensures consistency, efficiency, and scalability in design and development processes.

To understand more of the essentials of a design system, check out episode 16 of D3TV. In this episode Liz Flyntz, previous Director of UX and Design at DOOR3 is joined by Senior Designer Federico Fernandez and practice lead Tom McClean. They talk about how design systems are like a well organized Lego box, which allows you to build all the pirate ships and NYC skylines your heart desires. While not having a design system is like dumping all the Legos on the floor, and then stepping on them. Ouch!

The atomic design system

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is a design system?” We can discuss the atomic design system and its prevalence in modern day system and analysis building.

An atomic design system is a methodology for creating design systems that are based on the concept of chemistry’s atomic structure. It was introduced by Brad Frost and is a way to construct web design systems in a hierarchical, systematic manner. The idea is to break down interfaces into fundamental building blocks and then build up from there. Here’s how it works:

Atoms: These are the basic building blocks of a design system, similar to atoms in chemistry. In web design, atoms are the smallest possible components, such as HTML tags like a form label, an input, or a button.

Molecules: Molecules are groups of atoms bonded together and are the smallest fundamental units of a compound. In web design, molecules are relatively simple groups of UI elements functioning together as a unit. For example, a form label, search input, and button combined together to make a search form.

Organisms: Organisms are groups of molecules joined together to form a relatively complex, distinct section of an interface. For example, a header of a website might consist of diverse components (logo, navigation, search form, etc.) that function together as an organism.

Templates: At this level, the layout is crafted by placing organisms, molecules, and atoms within a layout to articulate the design’s underlying content structure.

Pages: Pages are specific instances of templates and show what a UI looks like with real representative content in place. This is where the design is tested for its effectiveness in actual use.

The atomic design system is beneficial because it helps create consistent, scalable, and reusable components. It allows designers and developers to think of UIs not as a collection of pages but as a cohesive set of interconnected components, which can be combined and recombined to meet a variety of needs and contexts.

What is a design system: Core components

At its core, a design system encompasses three main key components:

Style Guide: This component of a design system includes visual guidelines such as typography, color schemes, and branding elements. For an in-depth understanding, explore Nielsen Norman Group’s article on Design Systems.

Component Library: A repository of reusable UI elements like buttons, forms, and navigation menus. It ensures consistency and speeds up the design process.

Pattern Library: This includes common layout patterns and templates, guiding how components are combined to create functional interfaces.

What is a design system: Benefits

A design system can provide value from multiple perspectives for a company:

Speed and Efficiency: Design systems streamline the design and development process, allowing teams to create and replicate work quickly and at scale.

Consistency Across Products and Channels: By providing a unified set of design rules and components, design systems ensure that all products and services maintain a consistent look and feel.

Improved Collaboration and Communication: A shared design language enhances collaboration between different teams and departments, reducing misunderstandings and increasing productivity.

Educational Resource: For new designers and team members, design systems serve as an invaluable learning tool, offering clear guidelines and best practices.

What is a design system: Challenges

Implementing a design system, while beneficial, comes with its own set of challenges.

Firstly, it is resource-intensive; both the development and maintenance of a design system demand significant time and resources, making it a substantial long-term investment that necessitates dedicated personnel. Additionally, there is a notable learning curve associated with the adoption of a design system. Teams that are more familiar with traditional design approaches may find it particularly challenging to adapt to this new methodology. This adaptation process requires not only a shift in tools and practices but also a change in mindset.

Furthermore, the nature and scope of individual projects can sometimes lead to the misconception that they are too unique to fit into a standardized system. This perception risks overlooking the potential benefits of a design system, such as improved efficiency and consistency, which are crucial in a competitive and fast-paced digital environment.

Read: Automated Systems Design: Streamlining Efficiency and Innovation

What is a design system: Adoption

When it comes to implementing a design system within an organization, there are several approaches that teams can consider, each with its own set of advantages and considerations. The choice largely depends on the organization’s specific needs, resources, and goals.

Adopting an Existing System: This approach involves using a pre-existing design system. It’s often the most cost-effective and time-efficient option, especially for smaller organizations or projects with limited resources.

Adapting an Existing System: In this approach, teams modify an existing design system to better suit their specific needs. It offers a balance between customization and efficiency.

Creating a Custom Design System: Some organizations choose to develop their own design systems from scratch. This approach allows for maximum customization but requires significant resources in terms of time and personnel.

With this understanding of the different approaches to adoption, what are some successful design system examples we can review in today’s modern market?

What is a design system: Examples

There are hundreds of design system examples available in today’s digital landscape. Here are some of the strongest design system examples we found:

Material Design by Google: Perhaps one of the most well-known design systems, Material Design was developed by Google and is used across many of its applications and services. It’s known for its clean, modern aesthetic and emphasis on usability and accessibility.

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines: Apple’s design system focuses on clarity, deference, and depth. It’s used extensively in iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS, providing a cohesive look and feel across all Apple devices.

IBM’s Carbon Design System: Carbon is IBM’s open-source design system for digital products and experiences. It’s a series of individual styles, components, and guidelines used for creating unified UIs.

Atlassian Design System: Atlassian’s system provides guidelines, components, and resources for creating a unified experience across Atlassian’s suite of products, like Jira, Confluence, and Trello.

Salesforce Lightning Design System: This system provides guidelines and best practices, along with a comprehensive set of design patterns and components, for creating enterprise apps within the Salesforce ecosystem.

These five design system examples demonstrate how important adopting a system can be for your business’s overall user experience.

Design systems change the way we approach UX

Design systems for enterprises represent a fundamental shift in the digital design process, characterized by their structured approach and comprehensive nature. Key elements like Style Guides, Component Libraries, and Pattern Libraries form the backbone of these systems, ensuring visual consistency and functional harmony across various aspects of a product. The success of a design system hinges not just on these elements but also on the human factor – the diverse team of designers and developers who bring it to life and the continuous oversight required to keep it relevant and effective.

Whether adopting, adapting, or creating a design system from scratch, each approach offers unique benefits and challenges, tailored to the needs and resources of the organization.

Read: Integrated Systems Design: Creating Harmony in Technology

Case studies from leading companies like Google and IBM demonstrate the impactful role of well-implemented design systems in the industry. Looking ahead, as technology evolves, design systems are poised to become even more sophisticated, integrating emerging trends and tools to remain indispensable in creating efficient, consistent, and collaborative digital products. You can reach out to us by contacting us here.

Our design system development services are tailored to encapsulate every vital aspect of a comprehensive design system. From boosting efficiency and productivity to fostering innovation and ensuring user satisfaction, we specialize in creating systems that are not only adaptable and cost-effective but also user-centric, ensuring that they meet the evolving needs of your business and your customers.

By partnering with DOOR3, you’re not just investing in a system; you’re investing in a future-proof solution that aligns with your strategic goals, enhances your operational efficiency, and elevates your user experience to new heights. Let’s collaborate to build a system that not only solves today’s challenges but also paves the way for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Read More:

Automated Systems Design: Streamlining Efficiency and Innovation

Integrated Systems Design: Creating Harmony in Technology

Security System Design: Safeguarding Your Space

Design System Audit: Evaluate and Enhance Your Design Foundation




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