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How to create your own Design System: 8 Easy Steps

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By Cameron Cook

August 5th 2020

Step 1: Create an inventory of UI elements for the design system

It is always best to start with what you have already. Cataloguing all of the reusable components - patterns, color codes, typefaces, snap-grids, etc. - will help unveil any contradictions and inconsistencies in your design script.

Asking questions like:

Where are there inconsistencies from product to page?

What elements do you love?

What elements would you want to replace?

The main objective of creating this depository of components is to procure a universal guide of UI resources to eliminate any doubt of what can and should be included in the design system.

Step 2: Gather support from your team and stakeholders

There are two parties to convince for a successful buy-in when creating a new design system: your team and your stakeholders. Addressing the organization in these two perspectives will alleviate any future trouble of miscommunication.

Presenting to your team could be the ‘first step’, but there’s a reason why it is second. Searching for flaws in the consistency of your design language and identifying them could leverage the argument in your favor during a presentation. It will be a slightly more transparent presentation for the team, but organizational agreement is a must before presenting to your stakeholders.

Presenting the inconsistencies in your UI inventory to stakeholders directly is a great opportunity to unravel your knowledge and tactfulness in the matter. A longer list of design issues could be more convincing and admirable at the determination to find the inconsistencies. Giving the stakeholders the scoop of how it will help the company deliver the best experience for the user will, in-turn, gain their support and could get it to the market faster.

Step 3: Build a Multi-Faceted Design Team

When assessing the individuals to create the design system, you’ll need those who know how to implement and supervise the creation of a design system from start to finish of the product design cycle.

Identify the skill sets and talents necessary to complete the vision you had for this design system and the selection process will ease knowing exactly what you are looking for.

Step 4: Finding the Color Palette

Colors are extremely impactful assets to all areas of your design system. Defining a color palette for your design system before it is built will enhance your system’s design language and message. It is very important that your primary colors and secondary colors are complimentary.

Say a company is using fifty different shades of grey, when all they need is one readily available option to grab from in the design system. This can eliminate an inconsistency on-the-spot, and reflect the distractions of varying shades of the same color to save time and effort when creating anything from scratch.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should only have one solid shade to work with. Think forward to the use of overlays when contrasting type and the shades those additions bring, they have to be diagnosed in the design system as well. These are shades you’ll use repeatedly, and making sure the shades are consistently identical on certain components can help you write the definitive guidelines on how you use them. Providing precise information about the colors in HEX, RGBA, and HSL codes only help this consistency.

Step 5: Typography Scale

The typography is fairly laid out and simple, and usually comes within a style guide. Choosing Headings 1,2, amp&; 3 and body text that is suitable for your brand’s style guide is a quintessential practice of molding the visual aesthetic.

Choosing a font that is tied to your brand will create an individuality to be recognized. By keeping this recognized component consistent throughout the design system, your user will be able to navigate distraction-free without inconsistencies to readable text.

Even noting the specific sizes, spaces, etc. of your typeface and the rules behind those decisions are advantages you have within a design system compared to a static style guide.

Step 6: Graphics Library

When collecting your graphic design assets, the more there are, the more time you will save. Dragging and dropping already customized components into the prototype of your design system will be easier if all the components are completed and your options are pre-defined to flow together. This is also affected by the necessary elements within the components such as code or style script, if not already defined in the UI components.

You’ll need to create a few libraries, and for good reason. To separate the components into defining folders will ease the organization and implementation of the components.

Libraries to include in your design system include:

A standardized icon library

This is to ensure consistency among all clickable and branded icons.

Photography

A single path to all of your company approved photo assets - custom and purchased - makes it easier to pull from a design system. This also allows developers to browse for inspiration and style preferences more simply.

Branded imagery

This is where you store your standardized logos and other branded imagery. The use of logos can be tedious and being able to pull from an organized folder of pre-approved imagery will ensure that guidelines are followed consistently.

Including a list of principles to follow when crafting a new graphic design asset is necessary. This list defines the colors, compatibilities, sizes and preferred file formats; all necessary elements to creating a consistent component for the future of your company.

Step 7: Pattern Library

A pattern library of your most common and interactive design elements is more advanced than still imagery.

To reiterate, UI patterns are the consistent design elements used in the interface of your app, site, or product. Where you place your search function, the icons you use, placeholder text and whether your input region expands or stays open are all examples of the different UI patterns you can create.

UI patterns tend to be more technical, meaning there are precise scripts underneath the visual components that define it. When organizing patterns, making sure to include notes about the specifics of how to use the components is a great practice to put in play. For example, organizing by functions like ‘navigation’, or by component type like ‘menus’ can really help the structure of a pattern library.

Step 8: Design System Documentation

Creating a collective document that is easily accessible makes a convenient place to input your components. Templatizing the document and categorizing the components to simply plug and play will streamline efficiency when compiling this.

This full-markup sets up an easy hand off to your developers with full documentation to shroud any doubt in the communication between teams.

Conclusion

Design systems are newer to the tech space and digital design, but the concept has - undeniably - been waiting to be implemented. There is massive capability with the usefulness and impact design systems can have on an app, site, or product. This step-by-step tutorial only shows an introduction to the in-depth process of creating your own design system.

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