Managing a large organization’s design needs can be complicated, but implementing design systems can ease the complexity. Designers frequently have to collaborate not only with other teams but also cross-functionally. Depending on the scope of the brand, they may also be working internationally, across time zones and languages. 

To complicate matters, customer expectations are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Businesses need to be able to accelerate their digital transformations to meet those demands, while still maintaining consistency across touchpoints.

Yet the faster your brand innovates, and the more devices and channels you incorporate, the harder it becomes to deliver a consistent brand experience. Add in new hires, freelancers, and other variables, and you can practically guarantee inconsistencies will occur. 

Unfortunately, when this happens, your teams and customers suffer. Disconnectedness between teams results in outdated or incorrect content, as some teams may have access to the latest brand guidelines while others do not.

This causes variation in quality, which directly impacts your customer experience. It also drives costs up, as teams waste time duplicating efforts or trying to track down the tools they need.

Thankfully, there’s a solution: a Design System.

What is a Design System?

You’ve probably heard it said before: “Design Systems bring order from chaos.”

Design Systems allow for scale and efficiency, without compromising consistency. 

They function as a point of reference for designers and developers. The best design Systems are made up of reusable components, branding information, design guidelines, and other relevant content, all contained in one central place. This significantly streamlines the workload for your teams.

Brad Frost, who coined the term ‘Design System’ articulates the concept of system architecture design as being comprised of five components:

  • Atoms - basic building blocks, including: shapes, colors, icons, and fonts.
  • Molecules - simple groups of UI elements that function as a unit, like Input Groups.
  • Organisms - more complex components composed of groups of molecules.
  • Templates - page-level objects that layout the underlying content structure.
  • Pages - specific instances of templates that represent a design in its final form.
Five components of a design system graphic

Put simply, a Design System is a single point of control that organizes, documents, and manages the identity of your brand in order to deliver a great customer experience.

Why Do Designers Love Design Systems?

As you can imagine, there are a myriad of reasons why designers love Design Systems. Let’s focus on our top ten.

1. Speed of Design

Speed of Design graphic

With a Design System, designers are able to pull from libraries of design elements. This speeds up their work and helps them avoid blocking development. 

In a digital landscape that changes so quickly it can cause whiplash, this can be a huge advantage. A new design or a sudden redesign can be created that much faster thanks to easy access to everything from style guides and pattern libraries to UI components.

In fact, using a ready-made UI kit could save as much as 30% of designers’ production time. Taking it one step further, with a full Design System, you can save up to 70% of the team’s time during the product development process.

Faster acceleration means faster time to market, often setting you apart from your competitors. 

2. Consistency Throughout Designs

Critical to your customer experience is consistency. Ever wondered how a massive, global company delivers consistent experiences across so many platforms and products? A Design System.

One Design System, Unlimited Possibilities

Often, you may not even realize just how inconsistent your designs have become. When HubSpot audited every one of their components, they discovered that they had over 100 variations in shades of gray alone, over 40 different text styles, and thousands of lines of custom CSS. 

This is exacerbated by the nature of designing. Typically, people request designs for a given page or screen. But that screen may contain a feature also used on many other pages. Designers want to avoid accidentally changing a feature on their pages that is already widely used. Being able to pull a feature – pre-designed – from a Design System library ensures site consistency.

And best of all, consistency builds a stronger brand. 

3. Increased Collaboration

Part of the beauty of a Design System is that it helps collaboration thrive. 

For example, two designers may be working on different pages that share a new feature. With a Design System, both designers can work in parallel on their pages and more easily collaborate on the new feature. 

4. Improved Efficiency

Most design work is followed by a hand-off to developers. Designers want those hand-off meetings to be efficient. 

With a Design System, designers can quickly talk with developers about the elements that can leverage existing tokens and focus more time on elements that are new.

5. Tried & True Patterns

Assuming the patterns of a Design System are well tested, designers can create with confidence. No more guessing which patterns work and which don’t. They simply elect to use design patterns already proven to perform.

With a Design System, you have tried and true building blocks (buttons, coding snippets, style elements, etc.) at your disposal to create countless new interfaces. Each time you put those blocks together you can build a new product, but you don’t have to start from scratch and build the blocks, too.

6. Worry-Free Creativity

It might seem counter-intuitive, but one reason designers love Design Systems is because they empower designers to actually be more creative.

This is because designers often worry about presenting designs that are difficult for developers to code. 

But a Design System created by designers and developers, following company design principles, takes a little of the worry out of the creative process, allowing designers to truly embrace their creativity.

7. Clear Guidelines

Sometimes a product or platform is complicated – made up of legacy code, third-party implementations, and the latest capabilities. This scenario can be tricky for a designer to navigate. 

However, a Design System with human interface guidelines can clearly distinguish what’s permitted versus what’s off-limits in a release or product line.

8. Easy Maintenance

Without a Design System, even the smallest change can create a lot of work for a designer. He or she may have to update twenty or more design files and speak with Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and Developers about work already in development. 

Thankfully, with a Design System, design file maintenance is far easier. Just as significantly, when given the right tools, designers and developers can be notified in real-time.

9. Ability to Scale

Designers concerned with UX think a lot about the context of the screen or feature they’re designing. A Design System helps scale design by providing guidance on usage. 

For example, a Design System may have three variations of a checkbox, but it will also explain in plain terms when to use each variation. This cuts down on the designer’s exploration of all three variations in a given context and makes it faster and easier to scale.

10. A Single Source of Truth

Designers are typically concerned with following any brand or product guidelines. But when a company has a lot of reference materials, it can slow down the designer’s workflow. 

It may take hours or even days to compare different guides, sort through discrepancies, and figure out which one offers the best and most current guidance. 

Having one source of design truth is probably the single best thing about a design system.

Investing in a Design System

Design-led companies infographic  - McKinsey

While developing a Design System does require an investment of time and money upfront, it’s certainly worthwhile.

Obviously, being more efficient, faster-to-market, scalable, and empowered to be creative saves your company time and therefore money, while simultaneously improving your customer experience.

In fact, in a sweeping study of 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000+ design actions over five years, McKinsey found that design-led companies have 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns to shareholders compared with other companies.

If you’re not sure how to begin creating a Design System or would like to discuss types of system designs for your brand, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge today.

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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