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You don't need the Design System

Intro

Design systems are at the peak of popularity today. All larges and serious companies have their owns design systems. Today, no one is interested in libraries. Modern libraries are less and less like their predecessors. And this is a normal process of evolution. Today, they are able, if not to become a full-fledged design system, this tool is individual for each company, then to bring it closer to the development of their own. But let’s be honest. Behind the development of such a tool, there is a lot of man-hours, communications, and well-coordinated work of many departments of the company. It means that the cost of such a project can become the most expensive investment. Maybe not.

Who needs the Design System?

What is a system in general, and why is it needed? A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure, and purpose and expressed in its functioning. In the Design System, components are a set of elements, and the visual language allows them to be in a relationship linking with each other. It’s a tool for designers, marketers, developers, and product owners. It allows all participants to interact in a coordinated manner, communicating in a single, visual language. Here is a small list of what you will get with your design system. Increase the speed of product development.

  • Consistency and consistency.
  • A systematic approach.
  • A single place of truth.
  • Scalability.
  • Easy design.

Most importantly, it gives a big jump for the company. A design system can turn a typical organization into a powerful design force. There is no free lunch, unfortunately. In addition to the obvious, at first glance, advantages, there are also serious disadvantages: Cost. The design system is a full-fledged product of the company. You need a dedicated team for it. Limited creativity. Going beyond the limits is almost impossible. Complexity. The design system may be difficult to maintain. It’s really expensive. To support such a system, you need to have a dedicated team. This team should serve the products, which means the product should be really profitable. Therefore, it’s quite obvious that this is not at all available for small companies. Moreover, for such companies, the design system may raise concerns with and turn routine tasks into total havoc.

You still need a system

If you are a small company, or you are not sure/not ready, you can still solve your problems with a systematic approach. Instead of creating a full-fledged design system, focus on the visual language. In user interfaces, all interaction occurs through the visual representation of information, and the visual language forms this part of communication. Without systematization of these elements, it’s impossible to achieve consistency in the appearance of interfaces, and most of the design solutions will form a disjointed user experience.

Many people tend to underestimate the role of visual language, believing that it affects only the aesthetic qualities of the interface. In fact, it’s a much more serious tool for managing the user experience. Thanks to the systematized visual language that is part of the design system, designers can offer solutions that form a predictable user experience. The appearance of new components or product pages will be recognizable and will simplify the user’s acquaintance with them. The overall visual identity of the brand can also be controlled centrally. Audit your projects and create a style guide. The most important condition is that the manual must be integrated into the codebase. This means that there are not enough layouts in Figma. Your manual should work and be synchronized with the development environment. What problems will this solves: Consistency and consistency. No matter how many designers and developers you have, everyone works with a single set of design tokens.

  • Consequently, most solutions will be uniform and consistent. This is surprising, but it really affects the overall perception of the product on the positive side.
  • A single place of truth. If you spend some time, the result can be a single synchronized document with a set of tokens and their description. The result can be a complete synchronization in the project at the level of the visual language. In addition to synchronization, this is also a great start for creating documentation with use cases, UX patterns, and user scenarios.
  • Bugs reducing. Small and nasty visual bugs related to size, color, and typography will disappear forever.
  • Themization. By controlling the visual language through setting variables for the main elements, you can create themes that define a unique visual part of the product and form a recognizable image of the interface for the user. The overall visual identity of the brand can also be controlled centrally.
  • Scaling. Themization is the simplest application of the system. Creating new products, modifying and improving them will become much easier and cheaper. This will also allow designers, and the marketing department to conduct experiments, if necessary, adding or changing various parts of the system without expensive changes from the development side.

It’s not as expensive as a full-fledged design system and does not require a dedicated team for support. In truth, everyone in the company who is engaged in design and development can do this. The synchronization process is quite intuitive, and it will not be difficult to configure it. For example, if you use Figma, the simplest and most affordable solution is to export tokens from the editor to JSON format, followed by conversion to the desired format using style-dictionary. A more detailed description of the process is worthy of a separate article, but it’s quite intuitive and will not make large investments.

Conclusion

The design language will not solve all your problems, but it will allow you to configure processes and solve the issue of scaling. Integrating the guidelines and design tokens will be a big step towards unification and synchronization. Lastly most importantly, sooner or later it will become something more than just documentation with layouts in the Figma — the Design System.