Design systems have been all the rage in the last years. Nowadays, Digital Products are being developed at fast pace and Product design has become a tight spot that requires a two-sided knowledge area, a mix of design and development. Along with this, building a single source of truth to collect and condense everybody’s knowledge and effort, has become a main goal and tool to get closer to Product success.
At first, it can be overwhelming but the long term benefits make it worthwhile. If you are thinking or just started building a design system, bear in mind these myths about the capacity and utility of it that you may come across on a daily basis.
1. Design systems prevent (and kill) creativity
One of the most common misconceptions around design systems. It could be said that designing a product using a design system would only consist on selecting pre-built components that were previously designed to generate templates and pages. But the reality is that “design system means freedom to work on bigger problems” optimizing and simplifying collaboration between teams and contributing to the entire creation process of the product. It helps you find time to focus on the creative dynamics of each process. With this tool in hand, the designer can think about the process of designing and apply it, throughout his or her best skills.
It is believed that there is no room for customization when using DS but that is unaccurate. Truth is that designers can create as many custom elements as their design requires and actually use them (if there are) according to the guidelines set by the design system for custom elements. New components can be proposed to be added to the system making style updates or additions easier and faster than ever and help grow this system further.
2. Design systems are just a style guide made by and for designers
Another myth caused by a misunderstanding of the design systems concept. A design system might start its journey with a Product or UX team but what do you do with a collection of nice crafted components if the user can’t interact with them? Here is when Developers enter the scene. Web applications are developed based on a collection of UI components, but it doesn’t stop there since it extends quickly across the entire application. As a consequence developing a design system will necessarily demand both developers and designers experience and expertise. Also, a style guide can influence and inspire the content of a design system but it doesn’t stop there. From Brand guidelines to Rules, constraints and principles, code components, design tokens, UI Kit, tone and language, and more; all of these things are required in order to maintain standards across the entire application and may involve other stakeholders as Writers, PMs, Legal Team and more.
3. Design systems limit flexibility
This is a tough one. On the one hand, design systems should provide some sort of rigid structure for consistency. On the other hand, it should also be flexible enough to allow changes in the look and feel without necessarily going back to square one. Components are created with the intention to be re-used across different products, so the biggest challenge is being able to design these keeping flexibility in mind. Brad Frost states: “A design system’s components needs to provide a flexible set of variations to address most use cases, but not so many that the components become overloaded with unnecessary features and bloat.”
4. Design systems are set in stone (and because of that, they are not scalable)
There’s “fear” amongst professionals, it’s said that once the design system is created, there is no room for any future changes and therefore no potential for scalability. On the contrary, design systems are never fully “done” as they work like living structures that need constant innovation and as much maintenance as the product(s) its serves. Think of Design Systems as a the product/tool to build other Products, and you should keep it up to date whenever possible. Every product that has been designed according to a DS will eventually require upgrades in a lifetime; be it simple enhancements or more complex ones. However this doesn’t mean that there will be adjustments every other day. There should be a defined process for updating and contribute to its growth.
5. Design systems are not suited for multiple projects
Each product should have its own unique identity, that’s a fact. It is also true that what works for a product may not work for another one. The point here is focusing on the forest instead of the trees. Systematizing components is not the same as standarizing them and making them bland. Design systems are not intended to limit but to set common denominators across products, for minimizing redundancy and inconsistency. One of the greatest strenghts of using a design system among different products that belong to the same company, is that it will ensure consistency over brand guidelines and there’s no need to make custom changes individually to each product. This also helps customers and users get a feeling of security and certainty while using these products, in particular with tools that belong to financial and health institutions among others.
6. Design Systems are easier to create at the end of the project
Unfortunately, planning to create and implement a design system it’s not an easy task. At a first glance you might think doing the UI first and then breaking it into components seems like the easiest way to go, but actually, you should think the other way round. Design Systems live by two main concepts: Versatility and adaptability. Planning its implementation at the end of a project has no sense at all, since the design and development of a product are highly intertwined.(interdependant?)
7. Design Systems require a lot of initial planning
Dan Mall covers this topic by stating that “not only is that an unrealistic goal for most enterprises, but it can often be a toxic mindset that anything less than 100% coverage is misuse of a design system at best or utter failure at worst.” The most important thing is to find where to start from. Be it a single button or an input,no matter what, there’s always room for improvement and the rest will eventually fall into place. Modularity and growth are key concepts when it comes to design systems so it’s not about setting up a perfect plan from the beginning but rather having a vision of what is needed in order to start implementing it and keep on iterating from there on.
Design systems are meant to be a solid and efficient solution when we talk about creating digital products, but that doesn’t mean that they hold a unique source of truth out there. They are a clear outcome of design’s evolution in a digital context. As a matter of fact, there’s no such thing as perfect time and place or way of generating a Design System, so focus on what works best for your company and get started, you’ll see results in no time.
What do you think? Are there any other myths you came across and we missed? Reach out to us through firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.