When your organization is pursuing a website redesign, you’re likely to reach the question of whether to implement a design system. The management of digital experiences has become more sophisticated, and design systems are an increasingly common tool for providing standardization with guarded flexibility. And, ultimately, they clear a path toward delivering a stronger experience to users.
But what if your organization’s website needs are relatively straightforward? Design systems require time and care to not only build, but also maintain. Should you invest that much in your website for something that seems so complex to implement?
In a word: Yes.
Regardless of the scale of your website, design systems elevate your site’s quality by making its design more consistent, more accessible, and easier to update.
Why design systems are vital to digital success
Not all design systems contain equal levels of complexity, nor should they. IBM’s Carbon is a shining star example of a complex and thorough design system. It is responsible for educating and serving as a resource for thousands of designers, developers, marketers, and more, so this level of detail and documentation is needed. Full, dedicated teams keep it running and up-to-date on a consistent basis. It’s inspiring, but this is not what most organizations need.
So let’s take the elevator back to a lower floor from this ivory tower example and consider the basics of how design systems are a way of thinking and operating.
Broadly defined, a design system is a complete set of standards that allows your internal teams to access pre-existing components when managing your digital experience. It is a library containing all of the building blocks for your site’s user interfaces and interactions.
A design system is an investment that pays off by saving time — and much more — in the future.
Saves your organization time and money
A design system acts as a single source of truth for every design and code decision on your site. When you use a product like Emulsify, your teams gain a component library that outlines all the code for each element along with a clearly written style guide for their use. This streamlines your team’s ability to create new experiences to serve your organization’s goals. And, when set up by the right web development partner, it will also be ready to adapt to changes that come down the line.
When someone on your team needs a new landing page, a design system provides all the resources they need. Instead of having to dig around to find the right components, your teams choose from a library of tested and vetted components.
The standardization process of a design system keeps your organization from repeatedly solving the same problems for your digital experiences. Instead of working to recreate a specific component, like a button, your teams work from an elevated baseline. This speeds up the process for simple tasks to go from conception to completion and frees up time for your teams to work on more complex or new issues.
Changes that would have been tedious can be fast and simple with a design system. For example, imagine your organization’s new brand strategy involves replacing your current, muted blue with a saturated, vibrant blue as its primary color. With a properly enabled design system, you only need to update a few lines of code to make sweeping changes across your entire site — it’s almost like magic.
By minimizing repetitive work on your site, a design system delivers more than a 20% increase in productivity. Your organization can allocate those saved resources to serve other projects.
Provides a goal-focused and scalable resource
Building a design system for your current or redesigned website places its entire user interface under the spotlight. Every element will be evaluated for how it serves your organization. Your site could contain 12 different buttons, but with a UI inventory, you limit your site to what is essential and create a more cohesive experience.
A design system also offers the flexibility to scale elements on your site because the code is set up to function in a building-block structure. As you need new features, your teams create them by assembling the pieces of proven components.
Design systems are also ideal for complex organizations that need to maintain visual standards while allowing distinct identities for subordinate properties. Even if you only need to spin up a single site for a standalone product, a design system makes it easier to maintain.
Preserves design consistency
By maintaining standards for visual and functional elements, design systems protect the long-term health of your site. Websites offering a cohesive design and interaction patterns deliver a more positive user experience with lower bounce rates. Users feel the difference.
Design systems also prevent short-sighted solutions from appearing on your site when someone in your organization needs a new feature. One-off landing pages and other projects could otherwise lead to technical bloat and inconsistencies, which diminishes your site’s overall quality.
Making sure that your website provides an inclusive experience should be a primary goal for every organization. Design systems provide a way to validate each component and all of its parts are accessible during every stage of development.
Predictable, harmonious patterns in your design also reduce cognitive load for your site visitors, resulting in an easier-to-use site. When you use a product like Emulsify, your design system prioritizes accessibility and tests for compliance in real time.
The challenge: Adopting a design system and nurturing its use
Unfortunately, the most difficult aspect of a design system is its most crucial step. A design system is a living document that requires care to be successful. To maximize its benefits, your organization must be prepared to adapt to its use over the long haul.
Internal training and strong documentation are critical to a design system’s survival, as is fostering a sense of shared ownership. One person can’t be placed in charge as the sole keeper of the design system — your whole team must be invested. If certain things aren’t working, or if new features are needed, everyone should feel empowered to ensure the design system remains up-to-date.
At Four Kitchens, we can set up a flawless design system that solves all of your greatest digital challenges. But, without attention to these steps, the health and survival of your design system is at risk.
A design system requires an ongoing commitment, but it is ultimately an investment that will continue to provide benefits. If this sounds like a tool that will benefit your organization and your website users, we should talk.
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