Discussion: Should Digital/Product Agencies Share Design Systems Between Client Projects?
I have wrestled with how to answer this question for a year or so now. At first, I was a hard no. As a designer at a digital agency I thought it felt cheap, lazy, and a misuse of a client’s trust to re-use components, modules and page styles between projects. I felt, pretty strongly, that each project should have its own unique experience and this experience started with a custom design system.
While this statement holds some truth, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the style of interface elements on the page, but rather how those interface elements get a user from point A to point B that crafts the unique experience each project demands.
This new thought has led to me believe that building one design system internally and applying it to many projects is a great idea.
Thus for the last year or so, we at Made by Munsters have started to create a master template of components, modules, system/application elements, typography styles, and more that can be used by just about any client project we take on.
Why do this?
Having designed and developed products for nearly a decade, we noticed that we re-use a lot common elements from project to project. I don’t just mean rounded avatars and vertical navigation menus, either. We use hundreds of common elements. Moreover, we were re-inventing these each time we started on a new client project.
Waste. Of. Time.
With a master library in place, we have a starting point for each project. It allows us to spin up a new design environment in Sketch — our preferred design tool — quickly without the overhead of having to create the same symbol groupings for the … I don’t even know … time.
Is this cheap? Are we cheating our clients?
Not at all. As stated earlier in this post, each application we design and develop at Made by Munsters has its own unique experience, combination of elements, research, flow and user testing. Lastly, as designers, developers, and users we know that a good user experience is more than the interface elements in a view.
Additionally, by sharing a design system between projects we have developed our own unique design voice. As a small agency based in the Midwest we have to compete against a lot of talent. Thus, we needed to develop a competitive edge. One aspect of the Munsters edge is clean, sophisticated, and well thought out design. Each component, module or page style that is added to our shared design system has clear rules and use cases.
For us, we have found great value in sharing one internally crafted design system that each client project can use.
What are your thoughts? We’d love to know.
At Made by Munsters we are all about engaging, healthy arguments — also called discussions. This series of posts are meant to start conversations. All comments are welcomed. The only rule: be respectful. We don’t want to babysit any kids but our own.