UI/UX @ Scale

UI/UX at Scale: It’s Time To Move to Design Systems

Design systems have been increasingly growing in popularity within organizations, namely due to their ability to help companies achieve scale and enable front-end developers while maintaining consistent styling across an application or suite of applications.

When leveraged properly, design systems have the capacity to streamline projects and achieve total consistency, which is why over 50% of surveyed design professionals said their companies have made the switch.

What is a Design System

Design Systems are a constantly-evolving set of reusable components and guidelines, giving designers and engineers a common language for total consistency across product and web design creation.

Layout of design system screens

Design Systems vs. Style Guides

Style Guides used to be the industry standard, they provided documentation on fonts, logos, patterns, styles, and usages that teams could utilize for future projects. Style guides are still crucial, but it is a small component of an overarching design system.

Ultimately, design systems encompass both brand and UI guidelines giving designers and engineers the predefined rules and guidance they need to rapidly develop front-end user experiences. In a nutshell, design systems don’t tell designers and engineers what to create, they provide a consistent, fixed ruleset showing them how to create it.

Design Systems keep all project stakeholders aligned and create consistency across all digital touch points. It reinforces the company brand while allowing developers to quickly build solutions based on a single source of design truth.
Sam Salima, Head of Design at Tech Fabric

Building Blocks of a Design System

A design system is only as strong as the components inside of it. Using atomic design principles, it’s important to start very small and work your way up.

Atoms: This would be buttons, inputs, icons, labels, and any other small elements used within the design.

Molecules: This is a (small) grouping of atoms. Examples could be creating a profile header or a checkout function.

Organisms: This is where atoms and molecules combine into a larger element. For example, you created a profile header but in this organism stage you might take that header, have a page image, and include a search function.

Templates: Templates are a culmination of all of the above, and is reusable across the entire platform.

Pages: These are the final stage, which can be a combination of templates and separate organisms, and can be tested across your platform and used to make updates to separate elements.    

Why You Should Consider a Design System

There are many reasons to adopt design systems into your development approach and your business, but one of the most important is scale. Previously, scale only existed in design in the form of guidelines. These could be applied across different media for brand consistency, but they did not include full sets of reusable components, front-end code or any form of automation.

Today’s design systems define all the UI-level components and rulesets allowing them to easily scale across all your products and applications and grow with them. Gone are the days of designers developing every screen and interaction, using a design system you design once and scale unlimitedly across all your media and applications.

Let’s look at the major reasons to implement design systems within your organization.

Scale: Such a key element it is worth repeating, the ability to scale front-end across your entire organization will allow you to better manage and control your customer and user experiences without reinventing the wheel for every new feature or application you roll out.

Consistency: Ever opened up a landing page your team designed a year ago and remark how outdated it looks compared to your existing website? This is 100% avoidable with a Design System. All your teams and partners (e.g. your PPC agency) pull from the same library of UI components to create individual templates, features, screens, etc.

Teamwork & Efficacy: There aren’t design-centric arguments because the entire team, from Design to QA, collaborates to create, test and codify the design system prior to roll out. With the teams already invested and eager to move quickly with consistency, the design system quickly becomes relied upon as their single source of truth and they take pride in enforcing it (just ask one of our front-end specialists).

Cross-Team Enablement: Arming engineers with design systems gives them the tools and freedom to prototype and test independently. Previously they would run loops with design for each interaction, no matter how simple. Removing these loops allows dev teams to more rapidly create, test and validate new features and screens while allowing designers to focus on more important UX areas and tasks.

Move Faster & Cut Time to Market: For all of the reasons listed above, design systems also make it faster to roll out new features and iterations. Less back and forth, less confusion, less rounds of edits means you move faster and release value to your end-users more often.

Helps Manage Compliance: Design systems can include built in rulesets for areas like accessibility (WCAG, ADA, etc.) to ensure your user-facing experiences are up to current standards at all times.

What Comes in a Design System?

Design Pattern Library: Any approved and frequently used patterns. This could be shapes, lines, colors, etc.

UI Component Library: This includes buttons, widgets, etc. This ensures that with additional features and pages, UI elements are completely consistent and designers can move much faster.

Design Principles: These are design rules that apply to the organization. Think of these as pieces of advice as opposed to a physical element. For example: “Simplicity always” will be something a designer adheres to when designing out a mobile screen.

Accessibility Elements & Guidelines: These are rules and recommendations that enable teams to create designs that are more accessible and also comply with Accessibility Guidelines.

Rolling out a Design System for your organization can make monumental changes cross-functionally, saving your company time and money in the long-run. But more importantly, it gives front-end specialists the efficiency they need to rapidly develop and deploy new features while maintaining consistency at scale.

While creating your system might seem like more effort in the beginning, the resources saved in the end (not to mention the constant consistency) pays for itself many times over.

Not sure where to start in setting up your Design System? Let’s chat!

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