Shift November 06, 2017

Why You Need a Design System. Now.

Maarten De Roeck

Lead Product Designer

Your digital product is constantly evolving

The term 'design system' has been popping up often and there is a good reason why anyone with an app or other digital product should take note. A few years ago, digital products tended to live short lives. Today, we see a shift in the digital industry and notice their lifespan has significantly increased. They exist on a continuum and require constant maintenance and upgrading.

You need a system to keep features and design synchronised:

  • through time
  • across different (new) platforms
  • on different (new) devices
  • for different collaborators

This system should align all parties, not only across the product, but across the brand as a whole. That's where your design system comes in.

Download Shift & read the entire article

This is an abbreviated version of the article about design systems you can find in Shift, our annual report on the 10 next big trends in mobile. Download Shift and read the full version.


So what's a design system?

A company's design system is a well-documented, overarching set of rules and agreements on how to create products and communications. A design system may contain a style guide, coding conventions, design components and a brand voice, for instance. The goal is to create a consistent and harmonious user experience throughout every interaction a person has with the company.

Companies like Google and Shopify already saw the need for a more systematic way of thinking. Google's Material Design system has become a standard for the industry, used by engineers and designers all over the world. 

Creating & keeping consistency

Incoherence in design makes a product look cheap and makes the user struggle. If you want interfaces that look and function beautifully in any environment, a product at scale should have a design system where all things come together.

A design system promotes a shared vocabulary that facilitates (remote) communication, breaks silos, and consequently speeds up the design and development process. It helps everyone (not just designers or developers) working on a product to think about how design decisions affect not only a single page, but the entire consumer journey

This brings consistency throughout your product. Consistency not only evokes trust, but also helps users to accomplish tasks faster and empowers them to master the interface.

Making design itself an agile process

Design systems ultimately make the workflow much smoother, which allows for quicker deliveries. They eliminate possible bottlenecks in the flow of building and designing a product, since anyone working on the project can create deliverables that add value. And all of this without tedious feedback loops that just slow down the (creative) process.

By approaching product development as a Lego-like process, you have more time left to shift your focus to bigger product problems. You minimise the redundant conversations and the one-off solutions. Teams can be fully agile and autonomous.

What's more, design itself can become an agile process with quicker deliverables. It can have a positive impact even if the first deliverable is only a set of core colours. Start small, ship often. This way, the system constantly gets updated and is never outdated. 

The power of component-based thinking 

Thanks to design systems, you can start closing the gap between development and design, so you can use your time to apply creativity to bigger challenges. With newer technologies, like React Native, developers can build apps that run on different platforms (such as iOS and Android) at the same time, because they embrace component-based thinking. Just like in development, new design tools allow you to design components that can be (re)used instantly.

The flexibility you'll need in the unknown future

Your digital product will keep on evolving in ways you probably can't even imagine yet. Design systems and component-based thinking will give you the flexibility you need to work in the unknown future, be it visual interfaces, devices or even no interface at all.

Interesting read? Check out our next blog post about the many benefits of component-based thinking and React Native.

Getting started on your design system?

Download Shift and read the second part of this article. You’ll find out what a good design system embodies and how you get started with it.