What Is a UX Design System?

What is a UX design system, and why is it important?  If you have a style guide is that enough? The answers to those questions: yes and no. First, a UX design system is the single source of truth for the building blocks of your design.  It includes not only foundations (like brand colors, typeface, icons, etc.) but also components (buttons, form fields), patterns (common layouts), assets, AND rules, constraints, principles and code so that your future and ongoing UX design and development is more efficient and goes beyond solving bigger UX challenges. 

The answer to the second question is no — a style guide is great but notall you need when building products. There’s a lot of interpretation required to get from a style guide to a functioning UI.  With a design system, you’re setting your recipes for components in advance. You prevent inconsistencies by predefining how each component looks, and when it’s used. 

Benefits of a UX Design System

So how can you and your team benefit from a UX design system?  Let us count the ways.

  1. Design systems bring order to chaos. Everyone is kept on the same page, so the entire product remains consistent and polished throughout.  Design systems also help to reduce chaos or uncertainty when making minute-to-minute changes, because key design elements are organized so that components can be used and reused without a need for change.

  2. Design systems improve the user experience.  Repeated use of familiar and proven patterns helps make the product easier to use and in turn improves the user experience.   Plus, designers no longer have to design everything from scratch — which leaves room for error.

  3. Design systems improve workflow efficiency. A design system will speed up certain parts of the design process. It’s going to make visualizing ideas much faster. You’ll be able to create mock-ups in a fraction of the time it would take starting from scratch each time.  In addition, product teams know exactly how components of new features should look and how to implement them. 

  4. Design systems change the pace of innovation. You can speed up the pace of innovation in that designers can reallocate their time to solving larger problems, and developers can use the design system to code faster.

  5. Design systems help you operate at scale.  In part this is due to the fact that larger teams will have access to the library to help them design, build and collaborate faster. You’ll also be able to more quickly iterate on multiple platforms, as you have a uniform guide.

  6. Design systems help you quickly iterate with confidence.  You can unleash creativity as you free up designers to focus on bigger, more strategic issues.

  7. Design systems help you deliver a consistent visual experience. UX design systems provide designers with a library and guidance so that every step of the user journey will have a consistent user experience. This, in turn, helps the end user better navigate the product and complete tasks, as things like navigation and buttons are consistent.


What Are the Signs You Need a Design System?

  1. You can’t scale your product fast enough.  Do you have customer demand you can’t meet? Need to scale internationally or across multiple devices and applications? A UX design system can help your design and development teams deliver faster, as they are not reinventing the wheel (so to speak) every time.

  2. Your design and development resources are not being used effectively.  Are you rebuilding the same page over and over again? Do your designers have to create designs from scratch too many times to count? A UX design system can alleviate this and help free up time for your designers to focus on bigger-picture items.

  3. Your designs are inconsistent across devices and applications.  If you have separate, uncoordinated web and mobile products, you’ll not only make the customer experience more cumbersome, but development work will be costly. A UX design system can help improve the user experience and reduce design and development cycles.

  4. The user experience is fragmented.  If your interface is inconsistent across devices in both functionality and appearance,  users are most likely struggling with multiple versions of what they expected to be one product.  Unifying this experience can make it easier for the customer to use the product and for your development team to support the product.

  5. You’re repeating the same task over and over again.  Ever find that your team is designing/developing the same type of page over and over again.  Rather than rebuild those pages or components with 100% effort each time, use a UX design system to help establish baseline templates, components and rules.

  6. It’s taking you too long to get your product to market.  If you’re launching a new product you know time is of the essence to beat your competition to the punch.  Design and development teams who are spending too much time on rebuilding vs. reusing designs and code likely are taking more time to get to market. Plus when you rebuild instead of repurpose you may find bugs and errors across your design and development process.  A UX design system can help.

  7. You’ve just launched a product.  Surprised on this one, well don’t be. For one, we all know that a v1 version of a product will require iterations. A UX design system can help you make those adjustments faster.  In addition, you’ll have a great resource when you plan to add features or complementary product offerings. 

  8. You plan to expand your design and development team.  Time is money.  If you are expanding your team to meet the needs of the business, you need to make sure they are up to speed quickly and are all marching to the beat of the same drum.  A UX style guide can help ensure that training is effective and the team is productive.

  9. Users are asking for features you can’t deliver now.  If your architecture or code has reached its limits, you may see an increase in requests for features and capabilities that aren’t possible.  When this happens, you may want to make a one-time change instead of incremental fixes that don’t solve the problem at hand.

  10. Your release management across multiple devices Is CUMBERSOME.  Is the proliferation of devices, resolutions and operating systems impossible to keep up with?  Do you find that you cannot launch new features on all devices at once? This can lead to frustration with your development team and your users, who may be missing features they need on the device they use.  Unifying this experience can help to improve release schedules and usage.

  11. You see potential in an improved user experience.  Be honest. You and your team know an improved UI would have huge potential. You don’t want to change for change’s sake, but you know there are ways of fixing the interface to improve the customer experience. And you want to be proactive.


Getting Started

If you or your company show even one of these signs, it could be time for an updated, modern, Unified UX design system.  Contact us. We’ll show you examples of design systems and discuss how Catalyst UX can help you.