Florian Born
Marketing human at Carrot & Company.
Does content in his sleep. Other people just call it "dreaming" though.
5 Minutes

Why your digital product needs a design system

5 Minutes
article posted on January, 17 2020
A design system sounds complex. But the advantages pay off quickly.

Does the red in your app always look the same? And also on the flyers? On the website, social media and in the newsletter? Yes? Excellent. It seems you have a working style guide and can make sure that your brand is always perceived the same way.

A style guide makes sure that your product looks identical in all instances. It defines colors, fonts and the look of the logo. This is helpful, but quickly reaches its limits. Your digital product, whether it's an app or a website, is more than text and logo. There are buttons, interactive elements, text boxes, icons, illustrations, overlays, photos and and and ...

What happens when you hover the mouse over the button? How do links change when you click them? Does this one icon only appear in one color and what if you interact with it? A style guide, a fixed document, can be updated, but far too often that doesn’t happen, or wrong versions are in circulation. On top of that, there are often spontaneous decisions that are not properly documented.

Design systems to the rescue!

One method to prevent problems like that is a Design System. This approach goes further than a style guide. It is also more than a classification of components. A design system is a whole process. Companies don't just create it once, but maintain it constantly when something changes.

This makes a design system a single source of truth for everyone involved, whether in design, development or marketing. Ultimately, everyone can and must adhere to it. Makes sense doesn’t it? If nobody sticks to it, there is little point in creating a system like this in the first place.

So a design system is not a style guide, but it is also more than just a component library. It collects reusable building blocks, but also defines how to use them. For the design team, as well as for development and marketing.

This is the fundamental difference to the Component Library. A design system is not just a box full of UI-Lego , in which all blocks will fit together somehow. It deals not only with the what, but also with the how and the why. It doesn't only need components, but also instructions on how to use them. To stay with the Lego description: Try building a Death Star when someone takes away your manual.

Advantages galore

A design system consists of components, rules, instructions and purposes. It is a style guide, component library and set of rules in one. However, it is not static, but changes constantly, adapts and grows. Every design decision comes from the Design System.

The greatest advantage of the Design System is obvious: consistency. If there is only one source for decisions, there can be no more discrepancies. Marketing, Branding, UX, Web and everything else always fit together. At the same time, it reduces the possibility that the product will eventually look like a patched carpet. Goodbye, Design Debt.

But more quality doesn't mean more time . Good documentation requires a longer process in the beginning, but so does any other design work. The difference is that you only have to do the design system work once. After that you can use it at any point. This way, your UX team can focus on experiences. Your developers don't have to bother with CSS that much.

Better communication

Both sides get another bonus: Better communication . Since design systems are also instructions, they contain many definitions and terms. In other words: Everything has only one name. The conversations then no longer revolve around "the little green buttons", but around the "secondary button".

Design systems save time, money and problems. They prevent ambiguities and inconsistencies. The only disadvantage you have to adjust to: They cost a little more time in the beginning. Especially if there has been a design before. But the redesign process, that doesn't eat up time, has to be invented first as well. You can't escape this with the classic style guide, either.

Do you want to harmonize your design? Or do you need support in the strategic design of your digital product?

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