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Best Practices for Creating a Design System

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Best Practices for Creating Design System

As more businesses and information become digitalised, there is a dire need for organisations to find ways to stand out in the sea of applications and web pages. One way to do so is to ensure that their applications and web pages have good UX designs, to attract more consumers and impact the business. To streamline their design work, many organisations leverage design systems to manage designs at scale.

What is a design system?

A design system is a set of standards which manage designs at scale by reducing redundancy and creating a shared language and visual consistency across different platforms. It is a collection of documents, articles, examples, code snippets, screenshots, design guidelines, components, and other digital assets.

Why use a design system?

A design system can bring about ample benefits to the organisation, including but not limited to:

  • Design work can be created and replicated quickly and at a scale
  • Ensure that members across different departments are on the same page
  • Creates visual consistency across products and channels
  • Serves as a reference for junior-level designers and content contributors.

Some excellent examples of design systems include Salesforce’s Lightning Design System, which is useful since it is also built for engineers. Other design systems from Apple and Google that are being used to ensure consistent design patterns in mobile apps such as Google’s Material Design.

Tips for Creating a Design System

Nevertheless, utilising a design system in the workplace has its limitations. Creating and maintaining a design system can be time-intensive, and the perception that certain projects are one-off creations which generally do not require reusable components may lead to a lack of unified strategy and a missed opportunity to increase efficiency. Hence, below are some tips for making the best out of a design system.

  • Choose a design system that works for youWhile there are tons of different ways that you can set up a design system, be sure to experiment and choose a design system that suits the needs of your team or organisation. You can start modestly with a design system that is easy to build and can be used by many people in various settings, and make improvements along the way. Consider establishing some success metrics to evaluate if the design system is achieving its goal.

If you are unsure of where to start, you can take some references from the best UX websites out on the Internet, and adopt what works for you. It would also be very beneficial to know the UX fundamentals and good user interface design principles so that you would know what you need to include in your design system.

A design system that contains a lot of elements can be overwhelming for some people to use, and such a design system can be difficult to maintain as well. As such, only build components that you need and are necessary for the current and projected needs, rather than for aesthetic purposes. Avoid customisation pre-emptively, and instead, add customisation to single components when needed. Consider periodically removing any unused or duplicated components from your design system to improve design efficiency.

However, keep in mind that your design system should be built for scale. Ensure that the components are reusable, and can be adapted to a larger or smaller sphere. Consider doing scaling design in a team, to avoid duplications and inefficiencies. Having clear principles and guidelines can make it easier to scale design patterns and components alongside a growing design team or organisation.

  • Embrace change

Current UX trends are constantly evolving, and digital disruption and innovation are to be expected. Hence, do not be afraid of changing certain design elements along the way, as long as there is a valid reason. One way to justify a change is to use analytics and user insights. Make use of the data from user paths and workflows to decide where you can be rigid and where you can be flexible in your design system.

  • Enable smart documentation

Although it can be time-consuming and tedious, documentation is critical in a design system, as this allows people to use the design system properly and with ease, and can even facilitate scalability and improvements.

First, understand the needs and wants of the design system’s users. Think from their perspective so that you can make the design system informational and easy to digest.

Consequently, maintain up-to-date and accessible documentation for all your components in design patterns and code. The documentation should be easy to navigate and the information should be organised properly. To achieve this, consider utilising online applications or hosting your design system online on a website.

  • Communication is vital

Some people might find having a design system in place helpful, while others might view the design system as just another tool they have to work with. However, a design system requires dedicated staff to successfully gain adoption and grow. As such, communicate how a good design system can bring about benefits so that everyone is on the same page, and allow others to contribute and provide feedback so that the design system can be more comprehensive and useful to all. Regularly update the team on changes as well.

Establish guiding principles for using the design system, and these principles should reflect the nature of the product. However, note that these should not sound like rules. Design systems that are too strict may be limiting and demoralising for their users, while too much freedom can lead to inconsistency. Strike a balance between freedom and control. Every team member should use the design system regularly, which will ensure that in the long run, each member knows how to solve problems systematically.

Establish a design process, which standardises naming conventions, documentation, hand-off, code review, and quality assurance. This allows various people to help maintain and use the design system.

Put in the time and effort to collaborate across different functions and departments when coming up with a design system, and ensure multidisciplinary ownership of the design system and developer environment. This helps to ensure that the design system suits everybody’s needs while remaining easy to use.


In essence, having a design system in place can increase the efficiency and coherency of an organisation’s design work. The key is to set up a design system that works for your organisation. There are many ways to start a design system, such as by adopting or adapting an existing design system, or creating your very own design system. There are pros and cons to each way, so don’t be afraid to try different ways until you find something that works for you.