Design systems simplify the design and development process and save resources and costs.
With their collection of design, code elements and framework of building blocks, design systems simplify product development remarkably. By integrating modularity, they lay the groundwork for consistency and scalability. The benefits of a design system are such that they not only impact the productivity of the design and development team, but also improve end user experience and strengthen branding.
Here are the 13 merits of design systems to prove why building and implementing one is worth the time and effort.
Most companies are caught in a dilemma when scaling products. Though essential for growth, scaling comes with many challenges, most of which are people related. As teams grow in size, monitoring and reviewing the work of every team member becomes challenging. This leads to lack of quality and inconsistency in results.
Design systems support scalability by creating a centralized reference for design decisions. With a collection of design and code decisions, design systems ensure consistency, quality and ease of scaling. The reusable components (design and code resources) bring all designers and developers in an organization on the same page by giving them a common language to communicate.
As products scale, maintainability becomes a concern. Frequent updates and improvements may cause serious issues if there is no maintenance strategy. A centralized design system has the benefit of easing maintainability by using components and design tokens which makes updating easy. Given how frequently changes in UI occur during a product life cycle, design systems drastically reduce the investment and effort required to improve and maintain products.
Reduces building time
Among all the benefits of design systems, the most evident one has to be how it shortens the product development time. With a design system in place, designers and developers can significantly save the building time as they can use predefined components instead of creating from scratch. Thus it becomes quicker to put together a prototype that is aligned with predefined guidelines.
Design systems help in delivering products faster with sufficient time to market, which is a great advantage for businesses. Moreover, it also significantly reduces the time and effort needed to fix or update the products post-launch.
Standardized design decisions provide a multitude of benefits to the product teams and give a huge boost to productivity. As designers work with standard design tokens and components, they are not required to put any thought into how UI elements like buttons or search fields should look like. This gives them the opportunity to focus on higher level problems and contribute significantly to the product design.
Moreover, design systems simplify translating designs to codes, which is a huge benefit for developers. As standardized components will make up most of the UI, developers can spend their effort on other scenarios that require coding intelligence.
Reduces technical debt
Technical debt occurs when design and development teams focus on short term goals instead of long term ones. Spending effort to meet short-term needs result in creating use cases for immediate needs. It leads to a buildup of obsolete components over time. They become a debt to the product team and hinders speedy development.
The benefits of design systems is that they provide a unified language and general set of components, which eliminates the need for building components for meeting short term requirements. When the bigger picture is in place, technical debt can be reduced as the design and development team can reuse the standardized components for all use-cases.
Consistency lies at the heart of a good user experience. Not only does it add an element of familiarity to a design, but also reduces the users’ cognitive effort and mental friction. Consistency makes products easy to understand and predictable to use. It significantly influences user perception. But for large organizations, with multiple product teams, maintaining consistency across product range is an arduous task.
Design systems promote consistency by defining and standardizing design purpose, principles, patterns and components. They contribute to four types of consistency.
- Visual consistency: It deals with maintaining consistency in aspects like colors, font and sizing.
- Functional consistency: Here, consistency in functionality is focused upon to ensure that the same user actions give predictable outcomes and the entire system is intuitive for users.
- Internal consistency: It is about maintaining consistency in all tasks and actions across all interfaces in an application to bring familiarity and ensure a short learning curve for users.
- External consistency: Here, the focus is on upholding consistency in the app interface across different digital devices. Users will get frustrated if an app looks and behaves differently on websites and mobile devices.
Improves code and design quality
Designers, developers, product owners and stakeholders are involved in the setting up of design systems. A great benefit of this is that the end-product will be a comprehensive, high-quality system tested and approved by people with different perspectives and priorities. For example, experts in information architecture design and typography design may be part of the design system team. When inputs from different experts are combined, the ultimate product will be of highest quality.
Eliminates risk of losing information
In many organizations, it is commonly observed that information stays in the mind of certain team members and is not documented anywhere. Organizations carry high risk of losing this information when those members are unavailable due to job change or personal emergencies. Design systems help organizations eliminate that risk by storing all information in a centralized repository which is accessible for all. It eliminates people dependencies and removes hurdles after employee offboarding or onboarding.
Promotes a shared design culture
Design systems are not just about style guides, components and patterns. While these tangible elements are an essential part of design systems, intangible elements like design principles and philosophy are also integral to design systems. They help foster a shared design culture where everyone in the organization is clear about the what, why and how of their design approach. Understanding the design purpose and principles help everyone grasp the design decisions better and create aligned designs whenever any custom requirements arise.
Gains team’s advocacy
In the development of a design system, the team gets deeply involved. They contribute to building up the system, which is a lengthy process that calls for a lot of effort. When people invest in the process, they feel a sense of ownership which can be quite beneficial for an organization. From collaboration to cooperation, productivity, adoption, speed and quality, having team’s buy-in significantly smoothens all aspects of the product development process.
Maintains brand personality
From the philosophy to visuals, voice and tone, brand personality is a complete package, which may get lost in translation during product design. Design systems, with their guidelines on all aspects of products, help to create and maintain a strong and memorable brand personality. Whether it is in the interface elements or in the communication design systems lays down strict rules on what is acceptable and what is not.
In an organization, a team sets up design systems and everyone else can enjoy its benefits. The team that creates the design systems can ensure that the design reflects the brand style and others need to just follow the guidelines. As a result, the end-users will get a consistent and predictable experience when interacting with the brand’s products.
Opens doors for equality in design
Ideally, every person should be able to use a product equally regardless of their physical location or cultural diversities. Accessibility and inclusivity are two aspects of any design which can raise its standard. Often, designers may be unaware of how they exclude certain segments of people, here design systems can benefit them by providing reasons, examples and ideas to make designs accessible and inclusive. Once they understand the importance of it, they will be driven towards implementing best practices everywhere.
Atlassian design system is one of the best design system examples that provides a comprehensive guide on accessibility. It provides accessibility guidelines on everything, from colors to typography, iconography and illustrations.
Better knowledge sharing
Design systems facilitate knowledge sharing by acting as a resource repository for all design decisions. Anyone in the product team, be it designers, developers or project lead, can go back to it whenever they need clarity. With well-defined documentation, design systems support collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The right documentation ensures that a team can be boarded onto a project really quickly and efficiently. It makes sharing guidelines with the entire team easier and standardized.
Reap the benefits of design systems
The advantages of a centralized design system for a team are many. From faster development to better design, collaborative working and standardized practices, design systems bring connectivity and consistency to designs.
A common myth surrounding design systems is that they are limiting and curb designers’ creativity. But in fact, by eliminating the low-level details and bringing standard guidelines in place, they give designers the freedom to explore and accomplish more demanding tasks. Moreover, if a company has different products, it is possible to share a design system as the interaction patterns of most user interactions will be common across the apps.
Design systems are not one-time processes or end products; they are an ongoing process dedicated to maintaining consistency and improving quality of designs. A well-constructed design system is a worthy investment for any organization and will give a myriad of long term benefits.
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