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Why (not) make a design system?

A 2 minute read written by
Kjell Arne Brødreskift
17.12.2019

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Design is complex - and ever increasingly so. It requires full collaboration between all teams and professions involved in the process. A shared design language makes teams work together more effectively. That’s why companies invest in design systems. But how can we make sure that it works for our product and improves our productivity?

Design systems should let product teams take a systematic approach to their work. But all design systems are not equally effective. Some help product teams create coherent experience; others produce confusing designs. We can measure the system's success by how well it helps us achieve the purpose of the product.

What is the reason you need a design system?

Perhaps you are creating a solution to an imaginary problem? Or do you just want a design system because others have one? None of these reasons suffices - obviously.

Creating a design system is time-consuming. And it could easily slow a small team down instead of moving them forward. The time you spend building a design system, you can't spend building a product. And if you don't have a clear direction, creating a design system risks being a waste.

A design system should come from the need to increase efficiency – when work is being slowed down by lack of design direction. But you also have to consider this mechanism: Those who create the design system believes firmly in its importance, and those who it's meant for tend to think they do better without it.

So how do you make it work?

You need clear directions for designers and developers:

Map out user's needs, goals, and motivations

First we need to understand who our users are and what are their goals, needs, and motivations. This information should be the foundation of the design system you want to create.

Express the purpose of the product

The product's purpose should inform design and development decisions. This purpose should be expressed in one sentence. The purpose should be natural, otherwise, the team won’t believe in it.

Establish clear design principles

Clear design principles are the foundation of any functioning design system. They should capture the essence of what good design means for the company and provide practical recommendations for product teams on how to achieve it.

Measure your progress

Implementing a design system is a process, and you need to ensure that the system is helpful through the process. But it can be hard to predict how a change will affect the user experience, so it's a good idea to define metrics and track them as you go.

Conclusion

A design system should be the guide to your product development. It enhances design-driven culture – it encourages people who work on the product to think of the purpose of their design. The design system's ultimate purpose is to give a better understanding of your users and a better user experience.

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