Managing design in a large organization can be exceptionally challenging. Team members are likely collaborating not just cross-departmentally, but cross-functionally, and often from different locations and time zones. In the increasingly remote work world in which we find ourselves, people are also often working simultaneously on the same project.
Often, this results in design inconsistency, or disconnectedness between teams. It also results in outdated content, with designs not being updated across the board, or some teams having access to the latest design guidelines while others do not.
Perhaps most problematic of all, this results in customer experiences that don’t deliver what they need to. Teams wind up reinventing the wheel, duplicating efforts, and churning out products that vary in quality - not a great look for your brand, not to mention a costly and time-consuming way to do business.
Thankfully, there’s a solution: a design system.
What is a Design System?
Put simply, a design system is a structure to organize, document and manage the identity of your brand in order to deliver a great customer experience.
Ever wondered how a massive, global company like Coca-Cola delivers consistent experiences across so many platforms and products? A design system.
Design systems function as a point of reference for designers and developers. They’re made up of reusable components, branding information, 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 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.
Each of these components builds on the next.
For example, atoms combine to build molecules.
Atoms and molecules combine to build organisms.
Organisms combine to form templates.
And finally, templates combine to form pages.
Why Use a Design System?
Clearly, there are a number of compelling reasons to use a design system.
1. A Design System Brings Order from Chaos
Without a unified system for design, everything you do, and especially any new people you introduce, increases the odds for mistakes, misunderstandings, and missteps.
Ultimately, a design system allows your teams to work faster and more effectively, even as work becomes increasingly complex and requires more collaboration than ever before.
It also saves time and money by reducing unnecessary duplication of work. Furthermore, a design system allows people to work on different parts of the project simultaneously, rather than having to wait until parts one through three are completed before starting on part four.
Most significantly, it ensures order for your users, by delivering consistent, highly effective designs.
2. A Design System Yields Smooth Transitions
With a design system, transitions among product, designers, writers, developers, and QA testers magically improve — and there are no big reveals or surprises.
By having a single source to refer to - especially one that is tried and true - onboarding can be completed more quickly and comprehensively than ever.
This means that even if you’re bringing in an entirely new team, a freelancer who isn’t directly connected to your brand, or extra help because you’re up against a tough timeline, you can be sure that everyone will be on the same page.
It also helps get buy-in from your team members quickly. No one has to think through each piece, because they are already pre-approved designs.
3. A Design System Suite of Tools Brings Us Together
With a modern suite of tools (that meet everyone's unique needs) and a shared workflow, your organization can work faster and happier.
Even better, a design system forces us to all use tools made for digital natives, thus moving the entire organization forward.
Not only does this work for your internal teams and processes, but it can be useful when working with external parties as well.
4. A Design System is Good for Business
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.
Perhaps this is because design systems allow for faster prototyping. With all design components documented and in one place, it’s simpler to envision the changes that a UI update would require. You can determine the impact of those changes with relative ease, and quickly determine if it’s feasible or not. Consequently, experimenting with different iterations is relatively painless and risk-free.
5. A Design System Helps with Scaling & Governance
Design scale is possible with a design system, thanks to the ability to have one system with many faces. Each face is dedicated to serve a different audience, while the core remains the same. This also enables small teams to produce more than they would otherwise be capable of doing.
In regards to governance, design systems can ensure compliance across a variety of spaces: accessibility, internationalization, legal (e.g. GDPR, WCAG 2.1, Section 508, COPPA, CA) editorial and brand compliance.
Typically, this would be accomplished through a variety of guides (i.e. Marketing Guide, Internal Web Style Guide, Partner Brand Guide, etc.) But design system governance outperforms guidance, thanks to its specific, replicable yet flexible structure.
Design systems are increasingly popular among brands, and with good reason: they save time, money, resources, and result in superior customer experiences, which are directly linked to increased revenues.
If you’re ready to develop your own design system, or want to learn more about what that entails, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge for a free consultation.