April 15, 2021
Gartner’s recent report on design systems, written in partnership with Blink UX, tells us what we already know: design systems are the future of design, and pattern-based design leads to better UX. Here are our major takeaways from reading the report.
Design systems are complex, but they’re supposed to make our lives easier and our work better.
By definition, a design system is “a set of reusable design assets and presentation layer code components, governed by clear standards, that can be assembled to build a variety of digital products.” If your design system is working as it should be, it empowers designers and developers to reuse existing components. Instead of redesigning that button over and over, you can copy-paste and save your energy for new projects.
To measure your design system’s effectiveness, check in with your designers and developers about what they’re building on the day-to-day. If your design system is healthy, they’ll be taking advantage of existing components to increase consistency and compliance.
The report breaks this down into seven use cases:
Pattern-based design frees designers from the drudgery of rebuilding buttons and forms. When you can reuse those “boring” elements, designers and developers are empowered to focus on innovation and improvement.
“Smart UX designers derive the majority of their structural elements from well-established design patterns borrowed from other design systems, past work, and popular digital products, thus ensuring the best usability possible.”
An argument in favor of building and maintaining a design system is increased consistency. An impactful design system will always lead to more consistent experiences because, instead of rebuilding, designers and developers can draw from an organized library of existing components.
Your design system should be the home of all of your branding elements, including your voice and tone guide. Mature design systems are accessible to everyone touching your brand and product—not just designers and developers but also content strategists and marketers.
As content becomes a more visible part of the design process, content writers become a more valuable resource for design system teams. By creating a gold standard for writing within and outside the design system, you’re guaranteed consistency in a critical aspect of your product’s UX.
“The style assets of a design system are an inventory of the visual, written, and behavioral attributes (such as color, typography, voice/tone, and motion) and must comply with your brand guide. Savvy designers collaborate with brand managers and product marketers to ensure the style elements in their design system accurately manifest the brand identity.”
Content strategists don’t just work on products and branding; they can be an active role in maintaining your design system. Developing consistent content within your design system will keep designers and developers from making costly mistakes. Making your design system a home for content writers will help keep your whole branding house in order.
Design tokens, according to Adobe, are “the values needed to construct and maintain a design system—spacing, color, typography, object styles, animation, etc.—represented as data.” Using tokens is the basis of pattern-based work, because changing an element in a token triggers changes across the product everywhere that token is used.
“Sophisticated design systems translate key style assets into design tokens, a powerful way to centralize the management of colors, text styles, icons, and more.”
For designers and developers collaborating within their design system, tokens streamline workflows—something especially critical for teams working asynchronously. Tokes are a hallmark of mature design systems.
Design systems are hard to build, and they don’t maintain themselves. Even after they’re built out, the work is never finished. Like any other product, design systems need a team of experts working together to keep them in order.
Gartner recommends involving UX designers, front-end developers, content strategists, and accessibility specialists in maintaining your design system.
These experts don’t have to be dedicated to your design system full-time, but they do have to be actively involved in quality control. A design system is only worthwhile if it’s complete and up-to-date.
The design systems community is growing fast, and more reports like these are being released all the time. To keep up with the latest developments in the design systems ecosystem, subscribe to our podcast and follow us on Twitter.