6 steps to create a Design System in your company

Lívia Amorim
Dec 5, 2017 · 4 min read

This post was originally published in Brazilian Portuguese on November 23th.

Scaling design practices and be a reference in design is a dream to many companies, especially those that make digital products and have multiple designers. Creating a Design System could be a way to scale practices as the company grows and hires new people.

Design System is a trending topic when talking about Product Design. It can clarify design principles, visual language and display consistent components. It also ease prototyping and guarantee consistency on the product.

Here at RD Station, we recently launched our Design System. The Tangram Design System was presented to the world on a live streaming with designers from well-known companies in Brazil.

Just to give you a timeline, I’m involved with this project for almost a year. Besides that, me and other product designers always studied continuous improvement on design processes, that was very connected to Design Systems. What I’m trying to say is: a Design System doesn’t come from nothing.

This is why I choose 6 tips for you to create a Design System for your company! In this post I will tell a little bit about my path and some valuable learnings I had on the way.

1. Check if Design System is really necessary

It seems obvious, but it isn’t. Sometimes — for hype or anxiety — we start something from the solution without checking the problem in the first place. When we started Tangram, we already had a large study about scaling design, listing all the problems caused by fast growth.

When I said that Tangram’s project started a year ago, it’s not like we were already launching stuff and creating patterns by that time. The first step was to make several interviews with designers and developers to understand the product team’s pains. In that time I was a product designer working on an agile team. So, yes, I had to make everything outside the sprint. I named that project “Brownie” (because I really love brownies) and started to analyze the results. It cleared my vision of the problems, so I started to make a solution — which is Tangram Design System, by the way.

2. Sell it

Not everybody knows what a Design System is. Expect people to understand it’s value doesn’t work (like everything in life, right?). You have to sell it, talk about it and be an influencer in your company. Whether you like it or not, creating Design System has a cost, and it’s the company which pays it. So get along with some stakeholder and sell it!

In RD Station I got some help from our Product Operations team to conduct the whole process. Mateus Bosa, who helped me most, wrote a post talking about his experience helping many people from our product area to make ideas come true.

3. Don’t start making. Start planning

Now that the problem is validated and the solution is sold, you can work on it! But not deploying some application and crafting new components. The first step is to plan the Design System’s scope, mission and it’s objectives. After that, think about the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

4. Do it little by little

A Design System isn’t a project. It’s a product, serving products (CURTIS, 2016). That’s why it needs to be treated like one, with a roadmap and all product stuff. The roadmap doesn’t need to have a long term vision, but it is important to make a list of problems that has to be solved in the next few months. It will help you and the design team to clarify what’s coming next.

As it is a product, you can also adopt agile methodologies and conduct sprint plannings, standup meetings and other ceremonies. Follow a strategy and create cadency is the key to success. No one builds a Design System from nothing.

5. Show the results

You sold the idea in your company, but now you have to show why it is important to invest more on the Design System. Remember: Design System isn’t a project, but a product. A simple way to maintain the allocated resources, is to establish and show some goals. If you want a model, Nathan Curtis wrote a post giving lots of examples following OKR methodology.

6. Involve people on the process

You — probably — are a designer, but it doesn’t mean you are the user. Your client is indeed a designer, but not you. Just like any product, a Design System is created for a public, and these people must be involved since the beginning. So research and validate solutions with designers from your company.

In this post I didn’t talk about techniques and technologies behind Design Systems. The idea was to bring a vision less focused on hype and more focused on business. What I want is to motivate you to take business decisions and be part of company strategy, which is very important to develop a Design System.

I’d like to give great thanks to my manager, Pedro Belleza, and to Mateus Bosa, from Product Operations, for helping me building Tangram. :)

UX Resultados Digitais

Lívia Amorim

Written by

Product Design Lead @ QuintoAndar

UX Resultados Digitais

Experiências do time de design por trás do RD Station

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