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Today design systems have become a necessary component of any successful product – they help businesses create harmonious, consistent, and functional interfaces. A professional design system also enables faster production — Figma conducted an experiment where designers were observed to be 34% more efficient when using a design system.

So, what is a design system? It is a compilation of UX and UI elements created in accordance with well-defined standards. The system helps to identify common functionalities, categorize them, and create usage rules. For example, it defines the basic rules of using colors, their combinations, and application methods.

That’s only one of instances of how the design system helps. This “treasury” of visual solutions, code snippets, design guidelines, documents, articles, and even philosophical principles helps and keeps designers, programmers, copywriters, and other team members involved in the creation of the product within the visual framework of the company.

What’s inside?

Design system is actually a big database of rules, patterns, guidelines and components. Simply saying, it’s like the Bible for a designer on your project. Usually, its main components are:

  • Brand guidelines and style guide

    Style guide and brand guidelines contain a set of rules, standards, and design principles used to create an identical and consistent look for a product.

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  • UI kits and templates.

    UI kits and templates are sets of ready-made components and layouts that allow developing the interface of applications or websites faster. They provide standard components, such as buttons, input fields, navigation panels, which can be easily added to the project without any changes and save time and efforts for designers.

  • Sets of UX patterns.

    Sets of UX patterns are generally accepted and proven solutions that ensure smooth user interaction. These patterns include typical scenarios, guidelines, and rules for element placement, navigation, interactive effects, and other aspects of UX. Together these sets help to boost the design process, since all possible solutions have already been thought up and entered into the documentation. So, the designer only has to choose the most relevant one.

  • Libraries of ready-made components.

    Libraries of ready-made components are collections of designed and tested elements, such as buttons, menus, carousels, which can be used for various products. They save the time needed to create basic design elements from scratch and reduce development time in the future.

  • Documentation, rules, and recommendations.

    The design system documentation contains a description of the instructions, rules, recommendations, and standards that ensure consistency and uniformity of the product’s design. Thanks to them, any designer or developer is able to understand the rules and principles of the design system, and therefore get involved in the process faster.

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When do you need a design system?

Almost any digital product needs to have its own design system. Unless you’re one-pager or don’t plan on scaling at all. In other cases, the design system is a must-have. Let’s get detailed.

First of all, a design system is surely necessary for products that work on numerous platforms (web, mobile, desktop applications). Thanks to it, the visual unity and integrity is ensured on all platforms, which makes the product more appealing and convenient for users.

Besides, a design system is a proper solution for a product that currently works on only one platform, but is expected to scale up in the near future, With it, a project designer won’t need to create adaptations from scratch. However, if scaling is planned for later, it might be better to build a design system right before the  scaling.

At the same time, there are cases when the design system is not needed. For example, a design system is not required if your product is small and non-multiplatform, if your products are at the MVP stage and are soon to be changed, or if you have only one landing page.

Important rule of thumb here is that without constant support & updates, the design system is just a waste of time and resources.  It is a living organism that must constantly adapt to the product which changes over time. Many people imagine a design system as ordinary layouts in Figma, but in fact, it is a conditional base of components that are developed by a design system engineer and lie in a toolbox to be taken  into the live version of the product any time.

Design system is an investment

Design systems have a lot of business advantages that you may appreciate in the long run. Creating a design system is an indisputable investment that significantly benefits everybody – the customer, the team of developers and designers, and the entire product. It brings unity, consistency, and efficiency in design and development, which leads to increased productivity, reduced time and effort, and ensures high quality and stability of the product.

If you have your design system in, for instance, Figma aligned with the front-end of your product, the creative process becomes much faster and more efficient. In this case, it’s possible to simply build any layouts using ready-made components as the constructor. Need a flow for a new feature? Without wasting time on creating new elements, the designer uses ready-made components from the design system to assemble a new flow. The developer views the layout and quickly uses already prepared components from the design system to quickly implement the functionality.

This approach allows products to speed up the development process as much as possible and ensure the unity of product design and functionality, while also increases team productivity and work quality. Cost savings are obvious: if you don’t have to make a new complex component every time but take one already developed and tested, it significantly speeds up development and Time-To-Market indicators.

Also, the importance of the proper design system can be very clearly understood during scaling. If a new sub-product or a new platform is added, then the existing components are adapted to it (sometimes without any changes from the design side, only from the development) saving businesses time and money again.

Important to note, that design systems are not only sought after by design and development teams but also have a tangible business impact. The advantages they bring are too substantial to overlook. Numbers say it all: on average, implementation of a design system can result in annual savings of over $1.5 million or approximately 21.25% of the time in a typical product development budget.

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To sum up

So, if you work with a design system agency, you are investing your time and resources in creating a design system. Yet, it will undoubtedly produce great benefits next time you’ll need to develop a page from scratch.

As your company expands, along with your product and team, designers and developers can utilize reusable components and avoid the wastage of time in recreating them from scratch. With pre-established components and clear guidelines on their usage, unnecessary meetings to discuss implementation details are eliminated, resulting in even more time saved.

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