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How To Start Using Design Systems and Why They Are Important

Using design systems can save you a lot of time and money.

Your team will communicate better and the whole product design process will be shorter than you think. All you have to do is to create a proper pattern library, style guide and code snippets. Here’s how you do it.

First things first, let’s explain the basic terms used here:

Design System

You can compare it to a code of conduct for product design. It’s a process that helps keep everyone on the same page and maintain consistency throughout all your projects to save time. A design system consists of a set of rules, restrictions, guides, patterns, and bigger or smaller elements that are vital to creating a coherent design. There are three main repositories that make up a design system when they are combined: a pattern library, style guide, and code snippets. 

Pattern Library

A pattern library is a set of reusable components and interactions. It is a repository of buttons, modals, and page layouts. A pattern library relies on a consistent form and look. That’s why it is strongly connected to the second part of a design system - the style guide.

Style Guide

Style guides focus mainly on style (thank you Captain Obvious!), which means that they’re a repository of colors, fonts, logos, and any other brand attributes used in product design. Style guides and pattern libraries are frequently used by designers and marketing specialists.

Code Snippet

Last but not least, the code snippet is a resource used by coders (Captain Obvious strikes again!). It’s essentially a chunk of code representing styles and patterns included in the previous two repositories.

Pattern library, style guide, code snippet - this Holy Trinity of product design makes up a design system.

Why should I use a Design System?

Now that we have established what design systems are let’s move on to showing some of the benefits when using them in product design. Design systems are created primarily for two purposes. On one hand, their task is to reduce costs by reducing the time needed to create new projects. On the other hand, they have the aesthetic role of making the appearance of all projects created within one company more coherent.

A properly created design system can be used for a long time in every product design process within the company. Using one saves a lot of time, as organizations don’t have to build their projects from scratch every time they want to create a  new design. They can base the new project on a ready to use design system and adjust it to the current needs of every single product design process. Making good use of pattern libraries and style guides also shortens the painful trail of feedback and getting approvals. It’s also easier to work in a group and distribute tasks because the design of a particular part of the design is not influenced by the style of a particular designer.

It may be a surprise to you, but using design systems means creating not only a coherent UI but a better UX as well. Creating a project from ready-made components allows you to focus on user experience to a much greater extent. You don’t have to waste your time on designing every individual part of the website or an app and can instead put your effort into building a proper use cases for a particular button or menu bar in the given context.

How do I build a Design System of my own?

It takes only 5 steps to get started:

  1. Do an audit - check all the designs that you’ve made so far and try to extract basic repetitive elements.
  2. Organize the elements that you’ve extracted - build all three repositories I’ve mentioned earlier and create subcategories in every repository to make everything searchable and easy to use.
  3. Put all of the elements in one place, easy to access for everybody engaged in the product design process - every designer, coder, and marketing specialist involved in the process needs to have equal access to all parts of the design system simply to work effectively.
  4. Sell the design system to everybody in the organization - internal communication is vital to making good use of the system. If nobody knows about it and how to use it they simply won’t.
  5. Always update your repositories - evaluate your stash every once in a while and make sure that if any new elements appear they are included in your repositories.

All in all- creating a design system doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, with just a little more effort at the start you can ensure smooth sailing for all your future projects.


For even more inspiration check out our article on the Key Design System Trends for 2019.
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