Design Systems

Why your voice and tone guide belongs in your design system

Design systems should be your organization's central source of truth for all brand elements—including voice and tone.

Over the years, style guides have evolved from uneditable PDFs to interactive living documents. Design elements and branding guidelines have moved to design systems, but voice and tone guides’ home is less certain—even though content strategy and UX writing are understood to be integral parts of product design.

Voice and tone guides can be effective in interactive wikis or HTML pages, but they’re most effective when treated as an extension of brand guidelines. Good UX is consistent UX, and that includes content. That’s why all of your UX pieces have to be stored together inside one dynamic, accessible system. Design systems save money, time, and creative energy, but they’re only as valuable as the work you put into building and maintaining them. If you commit to creating a holistic system for all of your UX needs, then everyone on your team will reap the benefits.

Let’s go into: 

  • Why consistent content is critical for good UX
  • Who needs access to your team’s writing guidelines
  • How content can unleash your design system’s full potential

Design systems are a central source of truth

If you’re wondering why voice and tone should be in your design system, you should ask yourself two questions:

  • What’s the purpose of your design system?
  • Why is consistent voice and tone usage important for good UX?

Design systems should function as a central source of truth for your product teams. 

This lets you keep your product and brand experiences consistent across multiple platforms and media: design, development, and content. A well-maintained design system replaces Slack threads and panicked calls about hex codes, and it keeps your product safe from inconsistencies.

For organizations like banks and pharmaceutical companies where there are legal consequences for changes to design and content, design systems allow designers and content writers to act independently. Design systems can also reduce concerns about accessibility violations, saving time on testing and money on potential lawsuits.

“Design systems are more than design repositories: they’re a living home for all of your branding elements.”

Content is as integral to UX as design and development, and it needs to stay as consistent as the color of your buttons. Housing strict content guidelines alongside design and development assets reasserts what experienced UX professionals already know: design + content = user experience.

Design systems are more than design repositories: they’re a living home for all of your branding elements. Housing voice and tone in your design system keeps content accessible to everyone working with your brands and products. That means designers and developers can write (a little bit) on their own.

A good design system outlives its creator. It’s dynamic, accessible, easy to navigate, and, most importantly, up-to-date. Design systems only work when they’re complete—for design, development, and content.

Who’s writing your content?

Giving designers and developers the tools to recreate short texts on their own, according to existing brand standards and patterns, will help your writers spend less time putting out fires and more time creating new—and better—experiences.

"A good design system outlives its creator.”

A good voice and tone guide qualifies what your brand sounds like. It gives specific examples to illustrate different applications of brand language so the reader can, ultimately, write in the brand’s voice on their own. While in an ideal world nothing would be written by anyone but a writer, for fast-moving companies that’s not always a possibility. Accessible voice and tone guidelines empower non-writers to write without catastrophic results.

Housing your team’s voice and tone guide within your design system gives everyone on your team access to a critical part of your branding. It’s a simplified way to make sure everyone is working with the same guidelines and standards, asynchronously and holistically.

Content and design need to work together

For your UX to be usable, it needs to be consistent. Pairing content and design in a design system marries them to each other. As a result, everyone touching your brand experience will know what goes where and when.

For a design system to function as a holistic central source of truth, you need to include all branding elements—including content. If your buttons shouldn’t be stored in a PDF, the same can be said for button texts. Set your designers and writers up for success by making sure content is included.