Over the next few months, digital design agency Resoluut will be spilling all their secrets on digital-first branding — from strategy and design systems to motion design and UX writing. Today’s topic: dynamic design systems.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged by anyone who’s ever worked in the digital realm, that the product is never finished. Whether it’s a website, an app or a smart TV interface, you’re always changing, tweaking and improving things. Since different teams work on the same projects, it’s key that everyone’s on the same page, style-wise. Design systems are the perfect way to achieve this.
A design system is a framework used manage the design for all new touchpoints. It’s a visual language spoken by all teams, with the brand’s vision at its core. The colors and shapes that make up the language all stem from that vision.
The base of an effective design system is made up of many single components. With these, you can design any touchpoint or interface you’d like. Since the design system is the foundation of your visual style, you should first validate both the system and its output. Once those are where they need to be, you can scale up as much as you want. And because everyone on the team is working with the same elements and following the same rules, scaling won’t take much time at all.
The element collection the system consists of isn’t a static database — it’s called a ‘dynamic’ design system for a reason. The system determines which visual elements are used, and if necessary, you can build new ones to add to the collection. This way, brands can change and adapt continuously.
Scale, scale, scale
Imagine the possibilities for big brands. Let’s take IBM as an example — a huge company offering around 2000 different products, which should all feel like they’re part of the same family. Every single product should exude IBM’s brand characteristics. Scale is the magic word here.
This is why the company came up with Carbon, a future-proof design system used for all ‘digital’ IBM products. That way, each team works with the same components. If a member wants to adjust the visual style, they can just tweak its base components. These are all stored in the same place, the so-called library. Simply update the library and wham: all linked elements are automatically changed. This is how to stay consistent and ensure all new products are visually in line with current products.
Within a dynamic design system, it’s super easy to tweak something — one of the reasons why Airbnb was an early adopter. Because some people browse Airbnb on their laptop, others use their tablet and yet others prefer the mobile app, a dynamic design system allows the company to consistently express their identity on every platform.
Another great thing about dynamic design systems is how easily new features are unrolled. All necessary elements have already been designed and are at your fingertips; new ones can be added to the system quickly. Setting up variations for A-B testing is also much faster. Sure, a design system is an investment, but over time, it’ll pay for itself.
This way of designing guarantees your brand’s recognizability at every touchpoint. Whether it’s on TV, on the internet or on a flag waving outside corporate HQ — the brand feels the same across the board. You can imagine how much easier this makes a brand manager’s job. Making sure brand expressions are consistent can be permanently checked off their to-do list.
But just having a dynamic design system doesn’t mean you’re there yet. For consistent branding, you also need good processes, solid research, a recognizable tone of voice and motion design tailor-made to fit your brand values. But more on those later.
This is the second in a series of articles on digital-first branding. Digital design agency Resoluut will be talking motion design next.
Resoluut is an Amsterdam based digital product and brand design agency. We create products and brands that do what they are supposed to do. If you’re curious about Resoluut’s own digital-first branding, head to Resoluut.com.