Let’s start at the beginning: What is a design system?
In short, it’s a structured collection of design assets, guidelines, and reusable components that create consistent and user-friendly user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX). A typical design system may include a color palette, typography styles, icons, spacing guidelines, UI components, and documentation. Although the definition of design systems wasn’t originally designated for digital products, it’s become common to use this definition for website and web application development.
Do you really need a design system for your project?
More than likely, yes! Because a design system is an agreed-upon collection of reusable design components that follow a set of clear standards and can be assembled in a variety of ways to create products, they offer a number of benefits for projects of all sizes and types. We found ten, but there are undoubtedly more.
1. Build a powerful mental model of your product & brand
Consistent design subconsciously builds trust with users by projecting professionalism and polish. By applying standardized design elements, design systems establish and reinforce that cohesive look and feel in the initial designs. Design systems also assist developers when it’s time to implement them in development because there is no question about how each of these elements should look, feel, and behave.
2. Improve your project's efficiency
When choosing a technology partner to build your website or app, it's important to find a team that will deliver, but it's equally important that they can do so without breaking the bank. Design systems help teams deliver great results in less time by providing reusable components and design patterns. Instead of reinventing the wheel for every new feature or screen, designers and developers can repurpose existing assets from the design system.
3. Iterate at lightning speed
Tight iteration loops are crucial to the continuous improvement of any website or application. However, if your product doesn’t employ a design system, it can create inconsistencies that may accumulate over time. Designers and developers avoid this by using design systems that let them update elements globally. What does this mean? It means that a single modification to a component in the design system automatically propagates across the entire design, reducing the risk of design inconsistencies that can undermine trust in your brand.
4. Increase client confidence during design approval
Throughout the design process, designers review work with clients to collect feedback and have designs approved for development. Having a design system in place is extremely helpful during this process because it provides a high-level overview of all the styles, such as the color palette, text styles, buttons, and more. This helps the design team and clients communicate more directly about high-fidelity (hi-fi) style decisions and provides a source of truth that all stakeholders can reference with confidence.
5. Streamline design/development handoff
One of the most pivotal moments in the project lifecycle is the handoff between design and development. This is the point at which developers begin bringing the designs to life by coding the website or app. A design system is extremely helpful during handoff for developers, who often find it easier to reference the abstracted styles and components in a single place rather than sprinkled throughout complex designs.
For example, developers appreciate having all the different button variations in one place, including sizes (small, medium, large), styles (primary, secondary, tertiary, link), and states (default, hover, active, disabled). Having a design system in place leads to fewer follow-up questions for designers from developers, which streamlines the process, builds trust in one another, and improves the team’s working relationship.
6. Gain long-term scalability
Design systems are suitable for projects of all sizes, from basic brochure sites to complex web applications. That said, they are essential for larger, feature-rich projects that are built in multiple phases. For these larger projects, a design system is used to verify that each part of the product looks and feels seamless, even if the components are designed months or years apart. Furthermore, design systems help to codify new design elements that may be added over time, ensuring that designers reuse existing components (when appropriate) instead of adding redundant ones.
7. Ensure continuity between designers
While some apps or websites might be the work of a solo designer, it's often the case that multiple designers need to work together. Sometimes, projects may also need to be passed from one designer to another. In those situations, a design system can really speed up the onboarding process for new designers and ensure that the work they produce fits seamlessly into the existing design.
8. Speed up the transition from wireframes to hi-fi designs
Many design teams begin their projects with low or mid-fidelity wireframes, which establish the overall layout and user experience of the product. These wireframes give clients a sense of how the web app or site will function, but they don’t have all of the high-fidelity styles applied. If the wireframes are built with a design system, however, it makes it much easier to push those hifi styles across the wireframes later on, giving designers a headstart in generating pixel-perfect final designs.
9. Reduce maintenance needs over time
As projects age, it’s essential to maintain both the codebase and the original design file. Maintenance is another touchpoint where a design system reduces the chances of introducing new design inconsistencies while keeping things professional and polished. With a design system in place, ongoing maintenance is much more straightforward since updates and improvements can be made systematically.
10. And finally, save money!
At the end of the day, design systems are about delivering professional results while saving clients money. The efficiency gains, improved communication, and reduced iteration time translate into real cost savings that far outweigh the upfront effort it takes to create a design system from the beginning of a project.
Interested in a design system for your project?
At By the Pixel, design systems fall squarely into “best practice” for any project we work on, and we’ve never had a client regret using one for their project. We design and build websites, web applications, and so much more for businesses of all sizes, types, and industries, and we love what we do. Check out our work, and feel free to reach out with questions or ideas: we’re all ears and eyes!