Six principles all great design systems have in common
Design systems are quickly becoming a must-have for large and small organisations alike. They promote consistency, speed up the design and development processes, and ensure every part of the digital interface is built on the same principles and values. I researched some of the best-in-class examples and identified six shared principles of great design systems.
1. They are built on company values
It’s easy to say that you want to create an “easy, clear and enjoyable” user experience and focus on these principles. But the truth is, no one aims to build interfaces that are difficult, confusing and unpleasant to use, so how will your product stand out from the crowd?
To create an interface that has personality, you need to go beyond the common usability principles and define your brand values. These can focus on the product, for example Pinterest that described its interface as “lucid, animated, unbreakable”, on the user, as shown by Medium who give writers “direction over choice”, or on internal processes, like the GOV.UK team who aim to “do less, iterate, then iterate again”.
Define 3–5 principles that are true for your product and make sure everyone on the team not only memorises them, but really understands and internalises their meaning. There are many ways in which something can be “bold” or “innovative”, so define how your values translate into UX principles that will guide the creation of your design system.
2. They bring the style guide and pattern library together
A style guide is a document describing your company philosophy and values alongside providing guidance on the content style and branding. A pattern library is a collection of specific design patterns and instructions for their use. In turn, a design system is an umbrella encompassing both the style guide and the pattern library, providing the framework that sets them in motion. On their own, they are little more than instruction manuals, but in the context of a design system they become tools that can help you build and grow your interface.