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5 Tips For Building Successful Design Systems

Nowadays, with the domination of online communication, mastering digital content became an indispensable element of successful businesses.

Building a cohesive, cross-channel online presence that would be a direct extension of the brand identity and narrative in order to deliver a unified user experience could be a tricky endeavour.

Therefore, the professional process of product development should include the usage of an effective, scalable and flexible design system. It should allow for seamless construction of various web designs across different ventures and devices and should amend the digital production overload by systemizing and centralizing the route to the final creation in a larger scope.

Here we share a couple of useful pointers that could serve as guidelines in creating outstanding design systems.

1. Choose your team wisely

Making sure that you gather the right people for your mission should be your first step and it is not only important to work with experienced developers and designers. There should also be a design system coordinator, who directs and overlooks the project, as well as a person that has a sense of the brands’ identity, mission and goals and can check if the other team members include them in the design.

Even though there could be a difference in work practices and conflict of interests between the teammates (especially in the context of an often non-uniform approach between developers and designers) - keep in mind that having a variety of perspectives can be utilised in a productive way. It will make the final product even more versatile and exceptionally applicable.

2. Pick your parts and priorities

To avoid the risk of feeling overwhelmed the next stage of the designing process should be identifying actual categories of the system which may include among others: visual language, UI elements, components and patterns as well as templates and layouts. To make things easier you can break them down into smaller particles and let your team choose the most important ones in their eyes.

After gathering all the data, make a collective decision by ranking different components and creating lists of your essential choices. Coming to a clear conclusion about priorities should be the end goal of the group deliberation and negotiation.

3. The meaning of language

Although it is understood that the workload should be divided amongst respective staff, the efficacy in realisation will come into fruition only if there is a clear vision that unifies all of the particular segments of the design. The factor that truly brings together the entire development is the mutual visual language that translates through the entire project - as the author of the design systems book states “Language is fundamental to collaboration.

If your work in a team, your design language needs to be shared among the people involved in the creation of the product”[i]. Consequently the elements that should be considered crucial to keep in a consistent alignment in order to deliver a harmonious message are: colour, typography, iconography, motion and space.

These  components are especially significant when it comes to branding. Therefore, design systems should be created in a way that somehow manages to offer customization that reflects brand identity within a ready-to-use systematized set of mock-ups.

4.  What is the real goal?

Some experts are convinced that design systems can be approached with the atomic design methodology, where we are looking at them solely as the building blocks of various scale and level - what seems like a very attractive and simplified vision.

Others claim that design systems are not only cut out, ready-made modules that you can automatically apply to any webpage without further analysis. Even though they are created to be expanded, effortlessly applicable and adjustable, at the end of the day, the people who are involved should always be the centre of the attention. That includes potential website owners - their objectives, expectations and needs, as well as obviously hypothetical users along with their motivations, goals and predicted behaviour.

Answering those burning questions can smoothly lead us to the way that the system should be designed - which components are non-negotiable, what should be their hierarchy, placement and arrangement. Furthermore, by predicting the potential path and the steps that the user would need to partake in and by creating theoretical settings and scenarios, we can have a clear understanding of the system organisation and character.

4.  Don't forget about content

If we all agree that design systems are supposed to be a reusable frame that can be adhered to diversified needs, during the process of building these systems we should take into consideration that they eventually will be filled with content and that they need to be effortlessly utilised despite contents diversification.

The utility of the given arrangement should not be compromised despite the change of the contents’ character and its message both in a sense of topical difference as well as type (short text, long article, photo, video etc.). At the same time it should offer an appropriate exposure to all of the categories above.

In conclusion, since design systems are a remarkably valuable, convenient and highly practiced tool of building online interfaces in a standardized and automated way with  multitude of indisputable advantages, making sure that the process of their production is as high of a quality as possible should be a significant objective. It is especially crucial also because their utilisation through expediting workload by applying modularity, can multiply operating capacity and accelerate business opportunities, thus directly influence profitability.

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[i] Alla Kholomatova-‘ Design Systems’- Smashing Magazine   

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