The acceleration of digital transformation, brought about largely by the ongoing global pandemic, has meant organizations are having to move faster, be more agile, and, for some, quickly turn around and launch new products and services to better serve customers. Coinciding with these new demands and ways of working are often restricted budgets and less staff, adding more pressure to product, design and marketing teams.
Organizations are simply having to do more with fewer resources, so it is natural to consider processes where teams are de-siloed to improve communication, increase productivity, streamline processes and — crucially — drive further cost efficiencies.
As global organizations look for sustainable ways of working in the post-COVID world, design systems are a way in which inefficiencies can be addressed and resources can go further for less cost.
What Are Design Systems?
Design systems are a collection of reusable components implemented in design and code that can be built into larger, more complex objects. These components are guided by principles and standards that set out the fundamentals of the design, such as spatial systems, grids and layouts. These rules allow designers to measure the size and space of the user interface (UI) elements and ensure that those elements are uniform to make the product more consistent.
These components also follow the atomic design approach. Atoms, a simple UI element like a button or form label, combine to make up molecules. Molecules can then be combined to make organisms — the complex, distinct sections of an interface. By introducing a set of shared components into a design library, resource and guideline, product teams have a process through which they can imagine, design and develop a product that is more integrated into their workflow.
Essentially, design systems build consistency, efficiency and collaboration into a team’s processes so they can build better interfaces, products and experiences.
Let’s breakdown how:
- Consistency: A design system becomes a single source for design principles and components utilized today by multiple markets and product teams. By creating a single source of truth, it ensures that all products are designed and developed in a consistent manner. Thus, a design system ensures processes and tools aid in the creation of consistent end-user experiences — which becomes even more important as team numbers grow.
- Efficiency: The design library where the components sit increases the speed and velocity at which product teams can operate. They also allow for changes that are made to components to be automatically updated across projects that have integrated with the library. This can save time, money and energy, allowing product teams to spend time on value-add activities, such as user testing. While cost savings will vary for each organization, these efficiencies can be significant, especially for enterprise teams.
- Collaboration: A design system provides common tools and language that all disciplines can follow, allowing design and development teams to become united by a shared view of the available UI components. This leads to easier communication, greater inclusiveness and better clarity. Working in a collaborative nature enables components generated and uploaded by all teams in all markets to use best-in-class sources.
Why Should Organizations Invest in Design Systems?
While business value is the impetus for considering whether your organization should endeavor to create a design system, business value alone will not translate into a system that benefits the customer, the designer, the developer or the business. Building an effective design system relies on bottom-up and top-down strategies, which means the sharing of underlying values across the organization.
Design thinking is a process that teams implement to understand users and create solutions to problems through context and empathy for people attempting to achieve a goal, which fosters human-centered perspectives. Design system thinking then also helps us comprehend those perspectives by creating an understanding of operational dependencies.
By combining both, businesses can create a way of working where there are smoother team interactions, greater perspectives from stakeholders involved and more thoughtful approaches to understanding problems — and their solutions. It’s a holistic approach that creates more cyclical and efficient processes and thus helps drive business value across the whole organization.
Both perspectives help in building a single source of truth that guides the experiences of developers and designers alike toward their goals. If we design products without regard for feasibility and the voices of the users, then those users, designers and developers will not be able to achieve their goals. And if we build products that do not support business objectives, stakeholders will not achieve their goals either.