My thoughts on how to start building a design system

2017 was the year of design systems and it is still a pretty hot topic in the world of design in 2018. If you are not working with a DS, you are most likely trying to prove to your management why it is worth all the time and effort to have one.

The common problem is that you may not work in a design-driven company. Don't worry, most of us don't. Talk to a few designers and you will quickly find out you are not alone. That's what inspired me to write this article — maybe you can find some shortcuts in your journey.

A design system should help the company build a united and coherent language. But as much well intended as you might be, it could also sound that by creating a system you will be killing creativity.

I’m sure you think you are worth trusting. Yeah! We all do! But proving a point about a project that will impact everyone’s work is a whole new thing; it usually takes more than one’s opinion to make a point.

I tried a few obvious arguments before I decided to dive deeper in:

Obvious Argument 1 — history
It may sound like a good start. If you also read Design Systems, by Alla Kholmatova, you know that one of the earliest examples of system documentation is Palladio’s The Four books of Architecture, first published in 1570. But, before you are finished with an historical explanation everybody will be already checking their smartphones, trust me.

Obvious Argument 2 — Everybody is doing it
Most big companies have a design system these days. Not only Google, IBM, Shopify and AirBnb but a bunch of other digital product companies too. The problem is: when you start explaining how their teams work, you may find out it does not fit your design team's size or process. Process is a keyword because process is behaviour.

Proving the value of a DS is not about finding the right argument, but finding the right behaviour.

Before you start the creation of the perfect polished design system, you should start just like any other project you do: think about all of your company's designers as users.

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A good Design System should reflect the needs of its design team, which is exactly the opposite of creating a document with the same amount of sections of the Material Design system.

Building a design system is about giving to designers, so they don’t have to worry about basic tasks that hold them from achieving their main goal. It empowers the team to bring strategic value to the company with innovation and creativity.

But how to explain it in a tangible way?

are the to freedom.

Saying that rules are the basic concept to live as a society should be more than enough to prove this point, but I found a much more attractive way to explain it.

Benny Grab is a german drummer known for the development of a system called the language of drumming, in which he explains how you could play basically anything by combining 24 rudiments.

The Language of Drumming DVD scene • Where Benny Grab explains the 24 rudiments.

When I first saw this DVD, it blew my mind. It was amazing to watch how the combination of some of those patterns could sound so complex and bring so much emotion and beauty when played with perfection.

As designers, aren’t we all trying to achieve that? Don’t we work day-by-day bringing together a set of patterns, with the intent to drive the user through a mix of emotional and rational decisions that, in the end, will provide a pleasant and unique experience (and, thus, profit to our companies 😁)?

Conclusion

Don't try to convince people that you should stop designing to work on documentation. Instead, work alongside your teammates to solve the pain points in their process. To do so, you will naturally need to generate patterns and assets and, as a result, a good and polished product. The value of your initiative will be noticed and, hopefully, you will get more time to invest in a complete design system.

If you're not able to get more time, well, follow these tips and I’m sure your team will be even nicer and more collaborative! 😄

Here are some practical tips to help you start your design system MVP:

  1. Find out what are the designers' main pain points on their creative process.
  2. Throughout the discovery process, pay attention not only to assets such as fonts, colors and icons, but also to what kind of tools and software your company's designers use. It will help you decide how to share assets in a practical way.
  3. Based on your discovery of pain points, start defining each section of your companies' DS. Always keep your user in mind.
  4. The documentation should always be evolving, but defining some deadlines and boundaries will help you to keep track of your evolution.
  5. Build together. Involving people in the process is the best way to make sure your company's design system is providing the right solutions for your team.

Before I forget, if you didn’t read Design Systems, by Alla Kholmatova, you definitely should do it. It’s a great book.

I hope you may find this article useful. Please, clap if you do.👏👏👏 😄

Special thanks to pablo and Julia who, besides being a great team to work with, helped me finish this article.

https://medium.com/media/05d5fd32eda31cbd1b83287606744532/href


The one true path to freedom: rules was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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