Laying the foundations for design systems

Great digital products are built upon solid foundations

Andrew Couldwell
Owl Studios


Building on-brand, quality, and consistent digital products at scale is hard. It’s even harder when your designers and engineers span different product teams, departments, and locations. Success requires more than an assortment of PSDs, Sketch files, style guides, a print brand book, pattern libraries, InVision, and whatever else your team claim to be working from. You need a source of truth. You need to lay strong foundations — then use them to sustainably build (or repair existing) products and design systems.

A building built on sand will only stand for so long without strong foundations.

Design system thinking: How I build system designs on the right, applied loosely, for comparison, to Brad Frost’s atomic approach on the left

At WeWork, over the past year, I’ve led what I call a ‘Foundations Initiative’ focussing on establishing our digital brand guidelines, design systems, best practices, and documentation for our digital products. This article covers what that means, the value of establishing ‘Digital Foundations’, what they include, and the design systems they’ve helped us build.

P.S. While I’m referencing a real, working example for this article — the principles here could similarly be applied to any brand/company/product(s).

What are foundations?