Design systems have become quite the buzzword in product development circles. At first, it started with a few software companies using consistent approaches. It is now an essential part of making modern products, from coming up with an idea to shipping the final version to customers.
Today, design systems are much more than the foundational object-oriented programming (OOP) patterns that were early indicators of the power of design systems. There’s more to it than the user experience (UX) design systems that streamline modern UI design and development. And they are more than just the new architectural patterns that are used today to make products that are highly scalable, distributed, and optimized for the cloud.
Design systems help you create better products faster.
As more and more companies realize how critical it is to work together in a whole system, not reinvent the wheel, and work together better, most of them have no choice but to join.
Let’s look at the benefits of design systems and how you can use them to build better customer experiences while speeding up product development across your entire software development lifecycle (SDLC).
A design system is a group of parts, patterns, and rules that work together to make things clear, consistent, and efficient.
It’s a shared language of reusable building blocks that helps teams work together more efficiently by helping ensure that everyone aligns.
Design systems are easiest to understand from a user experience (UX) perspective. A UX design system is a set of reusable components, patterns and practices that are used to give all the user interfaces (UI) in a product the same look and feel. They give a common framework for making experiences that are consistent and fit the needs of the user.
For example, Google’s Material Design, which came out in 2014, is an open-source design system that lets designers make consistent UI elements that look like things in the real world. When components behave like real-world objects, they become more familiar and predictable, reducing the user’s cognitive load. In 2018, Google introduced Material Theming to extend Material Design to other brands, allowing designers to style components according to their needs. Google presented a series of hypothetical case studies presented as “Material Studies”. The studies show how you can style components to fit any product, from an app for managing finances to an app for buying things online.
UX design systems reduce the time it takes to create new features. According to a study by McKinsey, companies that use design systems have an average time to market of just five months, while companies that don’t have a design system take an average of nine months.
But design systems are not only for UX. They can be used for every part of product development, from coming up with ideas to building and releasing the product. The benefits of implementing design systems in product development are many.
They can help you create better products faster by streamlining all processes, including:
• Design: When you give designers a consistent set of rules and standards, it’s easier for them to make UI elements that follow these rules quickly. This means it’s easier to ensure consistency across the whole product line.
• Development: Design systems help developers by giving them well-defined pieces of code that are easy to put together. This means it’s faster and easier for them to build out features without having to worry about designing individual elements from scratch.
• Testing: Since design systems are for reuse in different situations, they help streamline testing by focusing first on high-quality parts and how they integrate. This means it’s easier for teams to make sure that the parts work as expected in different situations.
• Maintenance: Design systems make it easier to maintain products, as you can easily update your entire product line with changes in one place. This means it’s easier to maintain and makes the whole development process go more smoothly.
Design systems establish repeatable and scalable processes and components. They bring together the best practices from different fields, so that product developers don’t have to start from scratch every time they make a new feature or product.
Design systems are not a panacea; as with any tool, they can cause more harm than good if not used with skill. Here are five common problems that happen companies use design systems without expert guidance and a clear strategy.
• Over-engineering: Design systems can lead to over-engineering, where teams become bogged down in creating components and forget about the actual product.
• Inflexibility: Design systems can be challenging to customize, especially if not created to be used in multiple contexts. This can make it hard for teams to adapt quickly to new products and features.
• Lack of collaboration: If designers and developers don’t work together early on, design systems can make the gap bigger. This can lead to a lack of alignment and communication between the two teams and hurt more than help.
• Complexity: If you don’t manage design systems well, they can get too complicated, with too many parts and too much code. This makes it difficult for teams to understand how all the pieces fit together, leading to confusion, high costs of ownership, and bugs.
• Waste from Unused Components: Design systems are only helpful if product development teams use the parts.
Design systems are a great way to drive consistency, but it’s important for teams to know when to use them. Design systems are not a one-size-fits-all solution to every challenge.
The best design systems are designed for the specific goals of the teams that will use them, with a clear strategy for success.
Design systems can help create a design language and deliverables across an entire organization, but without expert guidance, they can get in the way of creativity, collaboration, and speed to market. The best way to avoid potential problems is to use design systems with an expert, who can help you identify your goals, create the right design language, and implement it.
Design systems can standardize, streamline, and speed up development across multiple products. A team of designers, engineers, and people who have a stake in the system works together to make rules. Once established, your team can use design systems to build new products and features. Design systems are a great way for product teams to work together better, align, and make things more predictable. Still, they don’t avoid the need for early collaboration on the design system itself.
Design systems should combine fields like experience design, software engineering, and architecture to make building blocks that follow your design principles and product development practices.
Best Wishes, Matt
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