February 2, 2023
Design Tokens are essential to creating a consistent, unified brand experience across multiple platforms. But how do you effectively manage these tokens so that they can be easily shared and scaled? In this article, we'll discuss the Knapsack point of view on design tokens, including what it takes to construct effective token management systems to deliver a cohesive user experience across the board, how tokens help bridge the gap between design and code, and the importance of naming conventions to scalability.
We’ve organized our perspective into a few key areas we see as critical to building a sustainable and scalable workflow around design tokens:
Knapsack believes that Design Tokens are a significant aspect to the digital representation of your brand. Every facet of how your UI looks and behaves can be represented by tokens, and ultimately are a tool for brand management. Consistency and efficiency are essential when it comes to your brand identity, and Design Tokens make that possible by unifying both brand management and enabling specific implementation across end-user experiences.
Managing Design Tokens in code allows for translation and delivery across a wide range of platforms and apps, however, code is usually a barrier to co-ownership. With Knapsack’s visual platform, tokens stored in code can be viewed and edited in many ways (tables, color swatches, spacing values, etc.), removing the reliance on engineering in the design process, and democratizing contribution to the design system. This allows non-technical contributors to manage tokens (which ultimately end up in code) and permits all contributors of the Design System to continue employing the tools they're most familiar with.
In addition, It's important to manage tokens in a way that aligns with how they're used downstream (through web, mobile, etc.). Knapsack can be easily integrated into any number of CI/CD workflows — including a full-featured out-of-the-box GitHub implementation complete with semantic versioning and private npm package publishing. This means that your design tokens (CSS, SCSS, XML, Swift, etc.) can go end-to-end on day one, and engineers can focus on building products!
Part of managing tokens involves naming them together while considering the token's purpose. Naming tokens together helps to remove the disconnect between designers and engineers and instead encourages collaboration with simple views to review, edit and manage tokens. Clear and specific naming will also be crucial to enablement and adoption. Users of the system need to know what a token should be used for and in what context - the intent that grouping and naming can help convey. There are many tactical approaches to creating a unified point of view, from specific rules to govern token names (based on function) to workshop exercises to let teams think independently en route to a consensus, but it’s the spirit of the exercise - shared understanding and ownership - that is most critical.
Successfully leveraging design tokens necessitates cross-functional collaboration. Names and values of tokens should be created, edited, and managed by designers knowing that they will translate perfectly into code and the tools engineers use on a daily basis. Through close collaboration, engineers feel a sense of shared trust and peace of mind when using tokens. By bringing together the voices of all contributors, leaders can focus on the growth and impact of the design system without constantly re-focusing on the mechanics of the implementation.
The opportunity around design tokens is huge for teams of all sizes and makeups. With the right tooling and perspective, any team can capture design system ROI - from consistency to efficiency to innovation sharing - in days or weeks. We hope these insights help get you started with confidence!
Interested in chatting with a design system advisor about your specific situation or potential paths forward? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.