Design Systems

Design systems aren't museums

What’s the difference between a design system and a pattern library? They serve different purposes.

Pattern libraries hold components and are built for simplicity. The more a pattern library contains and the easier it is to find those assets, the more effective the pattern library. You should be able to get in, find what you need, and get out. 


Design systems aren’t judged (solely) by how much they contain; their worth depends on how they’re used. Ease of use is important, of course, but adoption is the key factor: how many people can find what they need in the system and use it to do better work faster.


Pattern libraries are built to house components; design systems are built to support teams. The system itself actively helps teams achieve product- and brand-related measurable goals:


  • Better UX
  • Increased consistency across platforms and interfaces
  • Decreased time to market
  • Increased ROI


etc, etc, etc.


Design systems aren’t museums. Their effectiveness is measured in saved hours and increased revenue.

What makes a design system successful?

Pattern library success is easy to measure: percent of design components contained in the system. If a design team adds all of their in-use components to their pattern library, the pattern library is complete.


Design systems by definition can never be completed. Successful design systems are forever works in progress, built to help teams optimize performance and work faster. Impact can be correlated with percentage of assets contained but it’s not the only factor, or even the most important. The way they’re used—and by whom—is much more important than how much they contain.


Want to help the design systems community learn more about design system adoption? Take our four-minute survey.


Design systems are built to help teams achieve better “hygiene;” to help them develop better habits for storing, documenting, and using existing patterns and components. Their sole purpose is to make it easier to produce higher-quality work: to improve your existing workflows, not to change them and certainly not to stop them. Team Knapsack advocates for building while doing: to start by adding the components and code you’re working on right now, and get to the rest later.


Design system maturity is defined by more sophisticated, and widespread, usage. They’re works in progress too—just by more people, adding more layers. Think about the famous design systems you’ve heard of: Atlassian, Facebook, and Google, for example. They all have teams supporting their systems because they treat design systems like products, with resources that allow them to grow and improve.


Investing in design systems beyond giving designers and developers a few hours each week to dump components pays off well beyond the design system’s 

Design systems are worth more than their contents

Pattern libraries make components accessible; design systems increase the ROI on each component. 


By giving context to components—copy, code, documentation—design systems use what you’ve already created to unite your team around a single source of truth. Successful design systems are always changing and growing, becoming more meaningful to more members of the team.


Design systems aren’t museums: design systems are tools.


Want to help the design systems community learn more about design system adoption? Take our four-minute survey.