Find out the benefits of building your own design system and help make sure your entire team is aligned
Design systems have definitely grown in visibility and popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Because of that, it may seem like a given to build one for your brand and company. And it probably is. Even so, it’s worth taking a deeper look at the benefits of design systems, especially if you’re advocating for the creation of one on your own team.
It’s also worth noting that by their very name, it can seem that a design system is inherently for, well, designers. So, let’s talk about the benefits of design systems as it concerns your whole team since it takes your whole team’s buy-in and involvement to make a design system a success.
The best design results from approaching the design process as a team sport, and when you’re talking big enterprises, this truth takes on a whole other level of meaning. As a company grows, design can go from being one part of the organization to being embedded in several. Then, factor in the different agencies and freelancers each segment may be using. Or, perhaps non-design teams are tapping design agencies and freelancers to help them keep up with demand.
Design systems, as mentioned, aren’t just for designers either. They help developers, project managers, product teams, and designers all stay on the same page and work from the same source of truth. By having a clear, consistent center where all that information is stored and can be drawn from, teams can set table stakes clearly, together, and move forward from a shared place of understanding.
Sometimes embarking on a creative endeavor means removing boundaries and guardrails so there is no limit to what could come about. But in enterprises, creativity needs to be contained within the bounds of the brand.
Instead of this being constraining, though, the guard rails that a design system imposes create boundaries that teams can push up against a bit, to test their creativity without “going off the rails.” Having no guard rails often leads to misplaced energy and effort in the wrong direction, which can lead to frustration and disappointment. By having a design system in place, teams can create within clear boundaries, know what they are working with, and innovate within that large but safe space.
As a company grows and its product expands, that usually involves creating more and more features and experiences within the product. As teams design and build more and more, the level of complexity within our product grows. Managing that complexity is often a source of design and development debt, and usually leads to bringing more folks onto the team to help manage it all, and keep up with the growing demand for product features.
Design systems help immensely with scaling in a few ways. First, they provide a source of truth to every new hire your team makes, so new team members can quickly get up to speed and begin working from an approved repository of resources. Design systems also make it possible to build more without necessarily hiring more folks onto your team. That’s because they keep your existing team from having to “reinvent the wheel” every time they need to spin up a new feature or experience, which leads us to our next benefit…
Teams design and build better and faster with design systems — period. That’s arguably the core reason these things exist in the first place. When you have a design system in place, developers don’t have to code tedious, repetitive design elements over and over, and designers don’t have to design them. Everyone can spend more time on QA, improvements, shipping updates, or any number of other worthwhile things.
Of all the benefits of a design system, this is the most business-oriented one of them all, because speeding up the product-building process leads to faster growth and, hopefully, more sales and revenue. Ultimately, it’s about the bottom line, and design systems have a huge impact on that.
When you’re working from a centralized source, maintainability becomes that much easier. You’re not spending time (or more accurately, wasting it) hunting down the source of a rogue component to squash it in its tracks. All the components, and more, are in your design system.
As your product grows and scales, things within it will change often. By keeping the source of truth for those changes in one place, you are ensuring that old versions don’t get pulled into the product, and by having a design system in the first place, you ensure you only have to make one update, not a dozen or more scattered all over your organization.
By providing a design system to your entire team, you are taking a big step toward enabling everyone to do his or her best work. When teams don’t have to waste time tracking down errors that get coded into an experience, redesigning minor but noticeable design mistakes, or getting teams aligned on the foundation you’re working from. Instead, there’s more time for individuals and teams alike to take on more value-adding work, which ultimately raises the bar for quality at your organization.
To create a truly memorable experience, it’s important that a user experience a brand and a product in a seamless way. That can be hard to do, though, especially when brand teams and product teams aren’t necessarily working together on a regular basis, as they often aren’t. And, even if they are, maintaining communication across teams at a large enterprise is challenging in and of itself.
With design systems, the folks in charge of brand experience and the folks in charge of the product are drawing from the same resource. The brand is baked into the components and elements within the design system because it was created with (ideally) input from the brand team. As a result, users enjoy that seamless experience that just feels right.
Design systems are not the same as documentation. Documentation is a part of any design system, but it’s not the whole thing; design systems also include your design philosophy, your approach to design, and the principles that guide it. And, it’s easy for that to get siloed within the design team itself.
Creating, maintaining, and using a design system, though, involves many different teams, and as such, creates a shared sense of ownership across those teams. By leveling up and going beyond documentation and components into the what, how, and why of design in your organization, you instill ownership within the entire organization, and enable your team members to work from a higher plane of understanding.
Design systems done right also create buy-in across an organization such that every user, to an extent, feels responsible for making sure the design system is maintained and used. It takes a village, as they say.
As your product grows and more and more experiences and features are added in, the risk of design and developer debt grows. And, if your teams aren’t using a design system, the chances of them making that debt infinitely worse also grows. It’s impossible to avoid debt entirely, but by using a design system, you keep debt to a manageable minimum.
Ultimately, consistency and trust lie at the heart of how your user feels about your brand. When he or she logs on, whether it’s from their phone or your website or elsewhere, they expect a seamless, smooth experience from start to finish. They aren’t differentiating from your mobile experience to your desktop one to in-product; for the user, it all should align. When it doesn’t, it can create confusion and engender mistrust, which damages your brand.
With a design system, you’ll be better able to ensure that your user’s experience across all aspects of your product and brand are unified, because the teams building those experiences are working from the same source of truth. From that comes brand trust, and then brand loyalty.
There are lots of other powerful benefits of design systems; what would you add?
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