Design System

Pro tip — it’s not the style guide

I keep thinking about how to sum up the Design System Workshop concisely, and the best I can come up with is this:

A Design System is both the artifacts and the process for creating a unified digital presence.

Many teams create the style guide, they have the colors, they have the asset library, they have the easily copied code examples, therefore they have a system.

That’s not a system though — those are just the artifacts.

Google defines “system” this way:

“a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done;”

That means a Design System is having the answers to questions like this:

  • Who can contribute to the Style Guide?
  • How do you contribute to the Style Guide?
  • What do we do when the Style Guide is bypassed?
  • What is not in the Style Guide?
  • How do we decide what doesn’t go in the Style Guide?
  • How do we decide if something is custom and is fine, or that it needs to conform more?

…and around 45 other questions.

This is where a style guide fails. It does not answer those 50 questions, and without the answers to those question, you don’t have a system. Without the system, as many of us know, the style guide is created and then quickly abandoned.

If you find Design Systems, especially in how to scale them, at all interesting, (you should!) check out the workshop author, Nathan Curtis.

I wrote some other thoughts about UI22 and the other workshop I attended, Using Scenarios to Solve Problems as well. Let’s meet up at UIconf in the future, yeah? :)

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her cat, crocheting, working out, and thinking too much about everything.

Donate to Paul & Ashley @ InterVarsity

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