Design Systems — 4 Things I’ve learned so far (Part 1) creating one

As designers, we try to keep up to date with the latest trends, methods and techniques in design. This is my first experience of stumbling onto the idea of the design systems.

I thought the idea of design systems was awesome! The promise of consistency, ease of prototyping, ease of implementation live, creating something like the big boys, etc.

A year or so ago I finally got the opportunity to produce a design system. Damn, was I delighted to jump on the challenge! How hard can it be!?

“Oooohh you naive and overexcited designer…”

So based on that experience here are some of the things I learned so far.

1. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

When I attempted to start the project I found myself asking the following “Do we need this right now?”.

Yes, it is a great system to have but, does the benefit justify the work.

Example problem 2 :

  • Problem: “It will help stop the inconsistency with all our designs”
  • Situation: There are only two designers on the team.
  • Verdict: Probably not, you can create a detailed guide and review each other work. However, if the team has plans to grow significantly, then yes it may be worth creating even just the basic components of the system.

Example problem 2:

  • Problem: “It will allow us to produce fast prototypes that can quickly be used by developers, therefore, producing more features and products faster”
  • Situation: The team only has one developer.
  • Verdict: Probably not, no matter how fast your design or prototype you will not be developing features faster with one developer. The bottleneck is the number of developers. Start there first.

Other examples of not to probably start one:

  • Very new business. You probably have better things to do.
  • You have a website or app that is not updated all the time.
  • You only have one designer.

2. It’s ok to start small

When designing your design system more than likely you will have all these great ideas of components that you should build to get ahead of everything. Yea doesn’t do that probably shouldn’t do this, design and build only what you need.

Start with the components you currently have or use. Dont start creating components like loading bars, video players, etc. when you dont even use that on your app/website or if it’s not in your roadmap. It’s easy to get carried away with creating these components after looking are great design systems.

As your app/website get more features and grows so will your design system.

3. Get everyone involved!

It’s important to get stakeholders and developers involved very early in the process. Stakeholders need to know why your spending your time on this and how it will benefit the business. Plus they kind of need to know if the branding/overall look of their business will change.

Collaborating early with developers will help determine the right code and implementation method of the system. Potentially reducing rework early on, and also adding more benefits to the project outcome.

Creating a design system’s purpose is it to make it easier to design features of your website or app. However, this won’t happen if no one knows it even exists.

4. Not everything will go as plan.

Finally, I learned and probably also the hardest lesson, is that you may not get it right the first time. More than likely, you create something that is not usable by designers or developers and maybe does not make your job efficient at all. Just make sure to note what you did wrong and start over again.

Even now, learning new things to add regarding creating a design system. I am sure there are more complex problems I will run into as time goes by related to this. If you experience creating design systems share your what you learned and some comments.

Not everything above may be the same for everyone when they attempt theirs and I am sure some people probably did it right the first time. However, I hope some of the points above will help the ones that are just playing with the thought. If you happen to read this and have thoughts please share in the comments.

I look forward to sharing more about this later on.

Design Team Manager @hle | UI/UX Design Consultant | All-around Curious Person. I will share what I learn through my journey in my career as a designer.