Why a Design System accelerates Software Design and Development
Senior UX/UI Designer
12 min read
What is a design system? Why should you use a design system and what are the benefits for your product development and your company?
Time is a limiting factor for any company. In order to be able to dedicate our valuable time to the most important tasks, we try to systematize or even automate as many processes as possible. This is also possible in digital product development.
A design system serves to systematize visual design and thus increase efficiency throughout the entire development process of a product. Design systems also enable consistent cross-channel design and better access to the design for internal and, if desired, external stakeholders.
What is a Design System?
A design system is primarily a tool with design guidelines, principles, and a collection of components and resources for designing and developing a digital product. It includes a library of UI elements, colors, fonts, grids, spacing units, patterns, icons, and more, as needed. A design system is a kind of collection of building blocks that can be assembled into ever new and individual, but uniformly designed constructs.
The advantages of a Design System
1. Improvement of the user experience
Using a design system enables a consistent brand presentation across all channels, which is a significant challenge without a design system, especially with different products and separate teams. A design system enables a consistent visual and functional representation at every touch point with the customer. After a single experience with one of the company's products, the customer is thus able to use a still unfamiliar product intuitively right from the beginning, since he recognizes the UI elements and already knows how to use them.
2. More efficient collaboration and accessibility to design
Design systems facilitate collaboration and communication through a common vocabulary and understanding of the elements included in the system. Designers and developers often use different terminology, which can lead to misunderstandings or lengthy explanations. It is even more difficult for team members who have little or no familiarity with the terminology of both departments. This is where the elements and design guidelines defined in the design system come in handy. All team members have the same understanding when talking about an "Accordion" or the design token "green-800" or "paragraph-1". By the way, if you don't know what I'm talking about here, I recommend the following article "How to create a Design System for a Software, App or Website".
Of course, design systems are not meant to replace communication and it is very important to get understanding about the work of other departments, it is just used to avoid mistakes and to optimize collaboration.
3. Relief of resources
The defined elements and design guidelines within the design system allow designers and developers to focus on the complex and essential work of designing or developing interfaces. They are not always confronted with questions of how, for example, a button looks or behaves in its various states (Default, Hover, Disabled, Focus, Loading, ...), or what colors or spacing to use, because all these properties are already defined in the design system.
With a design system, it's more about using these elements and combining them into an interface according to the guidelines and in consideration of the requirements and needs of all stakeholders.
In addition to design tokens and components, design patterns also belong in a design system. These are structures that have already been successfully established for solving certain problems when using an interface.
In addition to known patterns, patterns can also be developed for individual problems. Proven and validated patterns then become part of the design system and can be quickly applied elsewhere if the problem reoccurs. This reduces the effort for design, usability testing, development and QA significantly.
5. Maintenance and further development
A design system is a central library, changes to the elements included in the system can be quickly applied to all products in the ecosystem. The atomic design methodology illustrates this principle very well. Atomic design aims to develop user interfaces with components that build on each other hierarchically, similar to chemical elements. In a nutshell, all more complex components are made up of smaller components and design tokens. This has the advantage that changes to components or design tokens affect all interfaces developed with them and time-consuming manual adjustments are avoided.
6. Documentation and training
The design system can serve not only as a tool, but also to document the visual corporate communication and as a training medium for employees.
Even the best designers need documentation of the design elements and guidelines in order to use them in everyday life and thus ensure consistent visual corporate communication.
New employees can be onboarded much more quickly and effectively with a properly prepared and documented design system. And even for existing employees it is an important source for refreshing and consolidating their knowledge.
A design system can significantly reduce the development costs of a product, ensure better quality results and reduce the communication effort between various teams as well as optimize communication. This has an impact not only on designers and developers, but also on project managers and product owners.
By systematizing design and development, requirements can be implemented faster and maintenance efforts can be reduced. Reusable components and patterns ensure that resources are relieved and can concentrate on the complex and essential work.
Creation of a Design System
Whether open source or a completely individual design system, there are a few things to consider when creating or implementing one. However, it is not rocket science and with the necessary knowledge and proper preparation, the implementation can begin. The following article “How to create a Design System for a Software, App or Website” gives you an excellent overview of what needs to be considered on the way to your own design system.