Design System Guide: Strategies & Planning for Success


For years, style guides and pattern libraries have guided the design industry, helping design teams standardize components and build a consistent identity for the business.

However, this isn’t enough – In today’s growing organizations, there is a need for a design-focused infrastructure that allows teams to collaborate effectively and produce design output across the organization consistently.

Enter, the design system.

Although style guides and pattern libraries play a significant role in design systems, they act as sheer components of a fully functioning system that offers vastly more strategic capabilities for product design.

But what exactly does the term ‘design system’ mean?

What is a design system?

A design system is a repository of style assets, code snippets, structural assets, and preset standards that can revolutionize the customer experience for seasoned and beginner designers alike. A fully integrated system allows designers and their teams to use these elements and components in an infinite number of ways to design and create products quickly.

A robust design system consists of sketch libraries, style guides, pattern libraries, and other graphical files in a structured format, providing ease of access and endless design possibilities. One of the primary goals of these systems is to create consistent UX and UI across all products in a range by acting as a single source of truth for all organizational design stakeholders.

Importance of design systems

Here are a few of the many important process improvements that a well-integrated design system can unlock for a business:

Streamlining workflow and quality control

Design systems help streamline workflows and ensure designers meet quality control standards. They provide design teams working on different products with standard language and product design guidelines, envisioning the business’s values and brand image. Large organizations dealing with several product design teams and no design system are bound to find it challenging to produce a visually consistent line of products that represent their brand.

Increasing efficiency

Design systems provide teams with organizational knowledge such as numerous UI elements and design components via their repository, increasing product design efficiency tenfold. Collaborating teams may choose from the robust repository of design elements for their product designs with no need to secure deliverables from graphic designers or other outside sources. The same assets can be used repeatedly in different combinations for different products quickly while maintaining consistency.

Organizational transparency and access control

Design systems also enable product stakeholders that are not a part of the design process (such as the management), to be kept in the loop, understand the product creation process, and share their inputs. User access management allows design teams to provide access to other teams or actors and give them the ability to view, edit, and manage existing libraries within the system. Bottomline – design systems make the design process transparent, giving relevant organizational members the ability to observe the design stages and the best industry practices that the team has adhered to during the entire process.

Improving the designer onboarding process

Newly hired design members must be brought up to speed on design guidelines and style guides that befit the brand image. With design systems, this task is made significantly quicker by giving new hires access to written standards and instructions for new members and information on past designs.

Decreasing design time and costs

Design systems make it easier for teams that constantly add new UI elements and components to select and use repository elements to generate new design concepts for their products. This evolving component database saves time and money, eliminating the need for design teams to manually recreate the same assets over and over again and instead, allowing them to refocus resources on tackling more intricate tasks.

Best design system practices for product owners

To build and integrate a robust design system, you need to realize that the system acts as a product by itself. Adding UI components and elements is an evolving process that enriches the repository so that it can serve as an embodiment of the brand image. Product owners need to build and maintain systems that can help optimize existing design functionalities while allowing for the integration of new functionalities as technology evolves. Here are some of the ways product owners can leverage design systems to their advantage:

Creating standards and guidelines

To avoid the risk of outdated guidelines, designers must constantly address the nature of the problem and if a new component is required to solve it. If not, designers must focus their resources on creating a new UI component that could potentially solve future issues of a similar nature. By following this practice, guidelines leave room for improvement of the repository instead of repetitive usage of the same resources. These standards further maintain product line uniformity even when hiring new design employees to the teams.

Team communication

Effective communications between teams allow for efficient collaborative efforts to reduce the time taken to optimize existing functionalities and implement new ones. Finding out if other teams see value in a new component requires excellent communication. Critical decisions that influence the whole system must be public to the different teams to achieve the most efficient design system possible.

Begin from the ground up

Focusing on the physical characteristics of minor elements such as colors and shapes and moving on to more complex UI elements can ensure consistency across all products and save valuable business time in solving inconsistencies later in the design process.

Build collaboration between developers and designers

Management must prioritize the planning and building of a collaborative system between developers and designers during the early adoption stages of the design system. Synchronous planning and execution of all code, colors, shapes, and other UI components can help avoid future visual inconsistencies.

Make sure your design systems are live with updates

Businesses engaged in legacy systems often wish to build their design systems on top of the existing legacy infrastructure. This endeavor can be an inefficient way to implement a design system. Instead, businesses engaged in legacy systems are encouraged to plan, develop, and execute their design systems as a process that works alongside the legacy systems. For instance, building a design system so that UI elements and components are entered into the system only when coded onto the product. This design system guarantees that every aspect of the design system is present in the product and will be subject to update when altered within the design system.

Getting all teams onboard with the design system

Implementing a design system can only be effective if all stakeholders are on board with utilizing it to its fullest potential. Encouraging all design teams and relevant stakeholders to express their thoughts and opinions in the early design process and factor in their concerns and ideas before implementation can help achieve unified support for the design system.

Single source of truth

Transparency in updates to documented guidelines and standards is vital when seeking to maintain a single source of truth for the entire organization. A single source of truth provides the company with a unified design language between all teams and makes all guideline updates transparent to all stakeholders.

Peer reviews

Implementing a peer-review system allows businesses to establish better collaboration between teams and increase the overall performance of the product design. Peer reviews allow teams to review their peers, make suggestions for improvements, and take lessons to improve their work. It further allows for designers to make judgment calls on the ability of the system to scale and gauge the necessity of further improvements. Enabling the single source of truth to be subject to peer reviews allows for stakeholder awareness of what goes on with the respective design teams.

Keep your organization notified

Making updates to the design system is ineffective if design stakeholders are not made aware of the updates. Devising methods to keep all stakeholders updated with documented changes can be a piece of valuable advice for implementing the most effective design systems.

Shortcomings of design systems

The principal purpose of a design system is to simplify the design team’s job. However, even though it has an elaborate list of benefits, these benefits act as a double-edged sword in some ways. Here are some ways design systems can be disadvantageous to businesses and their products:

Placing constraints on the design team

Making updates to the design system is ineffective if design stakeholders are not made aware of the updates. Devising methods to keep all stakeholders updated with documented changes can be a piece of valuable advice for implementing the most effective design systems.

Outdated standards and guidelines

Preset documented standards and guidelines are suitable for ensuring your products adhere to uniformity and brand image. Although, in some cases, designers blindly follow the procedures with little to no reflection on the need for updates to reflect current times. Companies can tackle this problem through open discussions, communication, transparency, research, and a willingness to stay updated.

Built for speed rather than evolve

Designer teams comfortably set in using design systems are, on some occasions, content with reusing a combination of multiple elements to achieve different product results. There is no ingenuity in this practice when there’s no call for improvement or new components. Yes, product design is faster with this practice, but the most straightforward path is not always the most innovative path and can have future ramifications for the products. Engaging in discussions and daily standups about the benefits of evolving the system with newer concepts and elements beyond its state is an excellent way to mitigate this problem.

How Cubyts goes the extra mile

Cubyts provides businesses with an all-encompassing design system/infrastructure that stores all the resources, frameworks, files, folders, documents, methodologies, and guidelines in the same place to ensure increasing design performance and consistency. Our team works tirelessly to help you provide a unified, organization-wide design process and enable your teams to design your products confidently and efficiently. Contact us to find out how we can help you revolutionize your design processes.