Intro to Design System

Santosh Sonnad
6 min readFeb 19, 2024

Welcome, curious minds, to the magical realm of design systems! Today, we embark on a whimsical journey to uncover the secrets of style guides and components. Prepare your imagination for a delightful adventure!

So, what is design system?

Imagine this: You’re working on a new project, and instead of reinventing the wheel every step of the way, you have a set of guidelines and reusable components at your disposal. Need a button? It’s there. Typography? Got it. Color palette? All set. That’s the power of a design system — a centralized collection of rules, constraints, and reusable components that ensure consistency and efficiency in your design process.

But wait, there’s more! Design systems aren’t just about making your life easier (although they definitely do that). They also play a crucial role in creating a cohesive and delightful user experience. Consistent design patterns and interactions help users navigate your product with ease, building trust and loyalty along the way.

Definition: A design system is a collection of reusable UI elements that product teams use and build on to create a consistent user experience across digital products.

Why do we need Design Systems?

  • Faster time to design: Design systems provide a library of pre-built components and guidelines, which significantly speeds up the design process. Instead of starting from scratch, designers can leverage existing elements like buttons, forms, and icons, saving time and effort.
  • No need to rethink UI Components: With a design system in place, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time a new feature is added. Designers can rely on established patterns and components, ensuring consistency and reducing the risk of introducing design errors.
  • Uniformity across apps: Design systems promote a consistent look and feel across all apps and platforms within an organization. This uniformity helps users feel more comfortable and confident navigating different products, as they encounter familiar design elements and interactions.
  • Easy to scale with more members: As design teams grow, maintaining consistency becomes more challenging. Design systems act as a central source of truth, providing guidelines and assets that ensure all team members are on the same page. This scalability is essential for large organizations or projects with distributed teams.

Why not use Design System?

  • Time-Intensive Nature: Design systems require ongoing effort to create and maintain. This includes updating components, documenting guidelines, and incorporating feedback. Without a dedicated team and resources, the design system can become outdated and less effective over time.
  • Training and Education: Introducing a design system requires educating team members on how to use it effectively. Without proper training, there’s a risk of inconsistency or misuse, which can undermine the purpose of the design system.
  • Resistance to Change: Introducing a design system often requires a cultural shift within an organization. Some teams may be resistant to change or may prefer the flexibility of designing without constraints, leading to reluctance in adopting a design system.

Elements of a Design System

The Design System Elements often contain a style guide and a component library.

The Style Guide: Where Colors Dance, Typography Sings, and Icons Frolic.

Ah, the style guide, a treasure trove of visual wonders! Within its pages, you’ll find the mystical secrets of colors, typography, spacing, and more. It’s like a recipe book for design, but instead of baking cakes, you’re crafting delightful user experiences!

Style guides are detailed documents that provide instructions on how to design things like logos, colors, fonts, and more. They ensure that all design work follows the same rules and looks consistent. These guides also cover things like how to write in a brand’s tone of voice and the overall style of a website or app. They are like a rulebook that helps everyone involved in a project stay on the same page and maintain a cohesive look and feel.

The elements of style guide are shown below:

  • Colors: Described as essential for making designs visually appealing and engaging.
  • Typography: Likened to spices, implying that fonts add flavor and personality to design.
  • Spacing and Layouts: Emphasized for their importance in readability and organization, with a humorous comparison to reading a book without spaces between words.
  • Icons and Illustrations: Portrayed as elements that add fun and visual interest to interfaces, enhancing user experience.
  • Images and Patterns: Highlighted as foundational components that, when used consistently, create a cohesive and harmonious design.

The Component Library: Building Blocks of Creativity

Component libraries are collections of reusable user interface (UI) elements, such as buttons, forms, cards, and navigation bars, that are used to build consistent and cohesive designs. These libraries serve as a central repository for all the UI components used in a design system. Each component in a library typically includes:

  1. Component Name: Each UI element has a specific name to avoid confusion.
  2. Description: Describes what the component is and how it’s typically used, sometimes with do’s and don’ts for clarity.
  3. State: How the component looks in different situations, like when it’s clicked or hovered over.

How to Approach Design-System Adoption

There are generally three approaches to using a design system:

  • Adopting an existing design system
  • Adapting an existing design system
  • Creating your own proprietary or custom design system

Each approach has its pros and cons. Typically, the more customized your design system is, the more time and money it will require to implement. Therefore, opting for an existing design system is the most cost-effective approach and demands the least amount of time to implement. (However, it will still require more time than continuing with the usual design process, as you will need to either replace or update some UI elements and agree on a standard). Some of the best open-source design systems you can find are Bootstrap and Tailwind. If you are a startup organization, consider leveraging open source resources.

Investing in a custom design system will be justifiable if the organization has specific needs that cannot be fulfilled by open-source design systems. As customizations and adjustments to the design system increase, any cost savings from using an existing design system will decrease. In the long run, creating your own design system may prove to be more beneficial. Make sure you understand your organization’s requirements before embarking on design system initiatives and carefully evaluate the trade-offs.

Tip: If you are creating a design system from scratch, make sure to check out the checklist.design It contains a list of elements, including the best UX and UI practices.

Examples of a Design System

Wondering what a design system looks like? Here are a few examples of comprehensive systems that you can use to see what a mature system looks like, and get inspiration as you begin work on your own:

For more examples just checkout Design system for figma you get to see A collection of Design Systems for Figma from all over the globe backed by code.

This article touches the surface of the design system development. If you’d like to learn more ask questions in the comment section and also you can check out design system 101 by Anash mehra for more detailed explanation.

I hope this article was helpful. stay tuned and subscribe for updates!

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