A design system is a way of systematising various workflows, practices and ideologies, implemented within a design team for a more productive team flow and a more customer-centric end product.
The reason a company decides to implement a design system is usually down to one of two reasons.
- Either a company has established that there is a difficulty in or inability to deliver quality, customer-centric products with efficiency and consistency, or,
- A company is looking to stay ahead of the fast-moving world of design. In this second instance, a company may look to implement a design system to address trends in the market or to modernise outdated workflows and practices, which it can see will be disrupted by new, emerging ideas.
It is a useful skill for a company to be able to identify these patterns which lead to the implementation of a design system, as it will help when it comes to implementing their own version of one. This is important because it should be remembered that no two design systems are the same. Rather, design systems have overarching concepts and areas they seek to address, but they are specific in their application and tangible usage. Every design system should be different because they are implemented by companies to address specific problems within a particular area of the product development team.
Therefore, before trying to implement a design system, a company should focus on what it is they are attempting to negate with the deployment of one, by identifying the problems which the design system is built to solve.
Identifying problems requires scoping them out. We can understand scoping a problem as an investigative process that aims to understand a business or a customer's problem with the aim of implementing a long-term solution with minimal disruption to existing positive patterns of design.
Although a design system will address the same areas, it will be utilised differently by each company that implements it. For example, all businesses and companies want the same goals for their customers. A coherent, consistent brand message throughout all interactions between business and customer. However, each company's particular brand message and tonality will be different, and potential inconsistencies within the message will also vary. Therefore, a design system as a solution should be tailored to the individual company and the problems they are attempting to negate with its implementation. The design system should address specific problems and provide an accurate solution.
Who Benefits from a Design System?
Well, the customer, of course! At the end of the day, the focus on customer-centric output and the increase in the fluidity of workflow brought about by a design system will ultimately be beneficial to a company's customers.
There are also benefits internally though, across a number of different departments. So let’s examine in more detail why a design system is implemented within a company.
Developers require specifics from communication with them. Their job is to programme the end result of several different departments’ research. Developers are tasked with establishing whether or not design concepts can be implemented in a technical sense.
They set a technical limitation on features and products, which is often at odds with a design team's more creative approach to a project.
The potential for communication breakdown within product teams is high, especially where development meets design. The communication breakdown can be further examined and we will often see there are difficulties in alignment with specific problems, depending on the company.
It may be that a development team is struggling with the core process of implementing a design team's ideas. In this case, a design system will address the problem of how to do this.
By contrast, it may be that a development team within a company is struggling with their ability to accurately align themselves with the larger goals of the company but has little trouble in understanding the specific ideas presented to them by a design team. A design system in this instance will therefore allow the development team to understand the company’s objectives, in turn providing clearer alignment for the overall goals and visions of the company.
The work of a designer is often quite different to the work of a developer. Designers express huge amounts of creative freedom within their work. Their job is to explore the space beyond what is possible and to entertain ideas from all angles.
Given the room for creativity that is rightly given to designers, a design system can address a multitude of problems for a design team that implements one.
The work of a design team is sometimes outsourced to third parties, in a case such as this, a design system will provide a framework and guidelines within which the creative freedom of designers can be allowed to roam, whilst still maintaining the overall tonality of the original company.
A product manager's job is to prioritise the various goals of the end-user. Their job is also to ensure that the various teams involved in the product are able to accurately communicate and interact.
To this end, much of their time is spent during the development of a product in the intercommunication between each team involved in the final iteration and development of the product. For a product manager, a design system can be thought of as a product in itself, the end result of which is a fluid workflow and a cohesive team.
A design system has the benefit of allowing product managers to know that the considerations of the parent company with shareholders are accounted for, as well as the fluid inter-team communication that a design system can bring.
Understanding the Problems
The reason a design system carries such a broad scope is that it is a wide-ranging concept.
As we have explored in this piece and others, a design system is implemented by different companies in different ways and for a myriad of reasons. It can help maintain alignment with goals, ideas and objectives whilst increasing speed and inter-departmental communication.
Similarities in the end goals of various companies can disguise a subtlety of problems that a design system is implemented to overcome. There is no standardised set of rules and there is no single “best” design system.
The goal of a design system is to address the multitude of problems that come about with a multidimensional team and a dynamic product building process. There are various departments and individuals to consider, along with company and shareholder objectives, which all can be aided with a design system, but doing so will be unique on a case-by-case basis.
The key to successfully deploying a design system for your team which will be long lasting and well used is to understand the specific problem that the design system you are building is designed to address.
By scoping out the problem, we can refine our offering of a design system to address, with pinpoint accuracy, the underlying issues within a team that are causing issues in the successful deployment of a product or service. We do this, by asking the right questions to ensure we get the answers we need.
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