Combining a library of UI elements with evolving rules and specifications, design systems have become integral to application and website architecture and design. But like all tools, they have to be used the right way in order for you to benefit.
First and foremost, be sure to set up foundational styles and rules at the beginning of a project — as these elements (colors, fonts, spacing, textures, interactive states, etc) will create the backbone of the end user experience and serve as a guide for yourself, your team, and your client throughout an entire effort.
Incorporating a design system into your project early ensures consistency and scalability – and has the added bonus of reducing friction and errors during the design and development processes.
Let’s dig into why consistency and scalability are so important to digital experiences, both for end users and the individuals responsible for designing, building, and maintaining the product or system.
If you’re like me, you get hung up on the details. Without a base system in place, every decision becomes an individual mountain to climb gobbling up unnecessary time and leading to inconsistency no matter how hard you try to be uniform. This is how you end up with nine different looking or different behaving inputs. You can imagine the very frustrating user experience that results from that!
If a design system is in place from the beginning, all you have to do is learn its language and consistency naturally follows.
This is the beauty of design systems: other team members can jump into the project and immediately hit the ground running. No debate needed — the rules are written and serve as guidelines to ensure a smooth, visually pleasing experience.
The very foundation of a design system is addition. If we’re following Brad Frost’s Atomic Design structure, you combine atoms to get a molecule, which when combined with another molecule, gives you an organism and when that is combined with other organisms, gives you a template, which gives you a page.
So the website you’re designing needs two more pages – no problem! Combining previously made organisms with the proper content gives you your page. Or, if it turns out this page requires a ‘special snowflake’ organism, creating a new organism is easily made from existing molecules.
And when their powers combine….
When combined, consistency and scalability ultimately save time, make designer / developer handoff a smoother transition, and allow the website/application/platform/product to grow with ease rather than become stagnant or discombobulated.
When the LookThink team implements a design system in the early stages of the project, we see the positive results immediately. Our designers and developers are speaking the same language, we are more focused on the decisions that will impact the user, and we give our clients the building blocks they need to continue to grow.
So remember this:
While it’s never too late to implement a design system, the creation of the system can become a very time intensive process when you’re trying to retrofit an existing system. This oftentimes leads to wanting or needing to start over (and no one ever wants to do that). The moral of the story is, create your design system early so you and your stakeholders can reap the benefits throughout an entire project.