The Importance of Creating a Design System Framework in UX

By Ryan Vice | Posted on September 23, 2020


Most of us use software applications day and night, but it’s not often we think in-depth about what went into creating the software we know and love. Every color, font, layout, button and popup message was meticulously designed (and redesigned) behind the scenes. 

Design System Framework: The Basics

It isn’t magic, and it isn’t luck that makes a beautifully functional software; it’s a well-built design system framework. Similar in nature to a brand style guide, design system frameworks act as a single source of information for the elements involved in designing and developing software applications. Where the two differ is depth; while branding guides tend to stick to colors, typefaces, and tone, design system frameworks encompass all aspects of design, including:

  • Colors
  • Grids
  • Modifiers
  • Typography
  • Icons
  • Components
  • Etc.  

What Makes A Good Design System Framework?

Proper Planning

A design system framework is an absolute necessity for creating cohesive, attractive, and functional applications. However, it can be challenging to make a system work long-term without proper planning. Many employees who have worked on design frameworks for their companies say they wished they had planned their strategy better, and in hindsight, many accredit not having a well planned strategy as the source of their system’s downfall. This attitude is telling: in order for a design system framework to last, it’s going to take some planning. 

Design Based on Visual Hierarchy 

There is no single best way to make a robust design system framework, but there are some generally accepted best-practices. For starters, it can be helpful to design based on a hierarchy. Before sweating the details, work on the most prominent elements, such as color and typography. These ubiquitous factors will have a larger impact on the piece than, say, how rounded the corners are on the buttons.

Make Intuitive Components 

Though the details should come later on in the design process, they still play a vital role in your project’s usability. Of course, you want your interface to look original, but users still need to understand what they are looking at. This can be a delicate balance; if an element is too unique, the user might not know what to do with it. In concrete terms – a button should look like a button, and the function of an icon should be evident based on its appearance.

Have a Maintenance Process

For any system to work well, it’s going to need some upkeep. With design system frameworks, this upkeep involves a maintenance process: a procedure for clearing outdated or broken components. Though upkeep tends to be more of an afterthought, research and past experience indicates that this shouldn’t be the case. In fact, maintenance may be the most important facet of a design system framework. Most successful systems have a maintenance process whereas few design systems that turned out to be a failure had a maintenance process in place. 

Why You Need A Design System Framework For Your Software

Eliminates Inconsistencies

Inconsistency and good design go together like peanut butter and mayonnaise – not in the slightest. Visual consistency is important to the project’s aesthetic; no one wants to be bombarded with a hundred different fonts and colors when they open a software application. That being said, visual consistency does more than just make a project look good, it makes the project learnable

When related elements look the same, users can more easily pick up on what they are and what they do. On a similar note, just as a project needs visual consistency, it needs functional consistency: similar components should work similarly. The goal of functional consistency is to increase predictability. If every slider on a webpage works the same, the user can feel confident in using them. 

While few argue the importance of consistent design, it can be difficult to achieve. By the end of a project, it’s likely you’ll have made hundreds of tweaks, and it can be tricky to ensure that only the final version of each element is used (especially when the differences are minor). Luckily, a design system framework can fix this problem. Depending on what you use to build your design framework, the vocabulary may vary, but most platforms have some version of “masters” and “symbols” (which is the terminology used by Adobe). 

A change to the master changes every instance of that component (the symbols), but changes to a symbol will only affect that one instance. This is incredibly helpful for preventing inconsistencies. If you decide to change the shade of blue on all of your buttons, editing them one by one puts you at risk of missing some. With a master, you only need to update the one. The main challenges that arise when utilizing masters and symbols stem from duplicates. At the beginning of a project, having multiple versions of the same element may not be an issue. However, as projects grow, duplicates can jeopardize your ability to stay consistent. If you unknowingly have two master components for a button, changing one may not change every instance of that button – leaving you with two slightly different versions.

Improves Collaboration Between Design & Development Teams

Design system frameworks provide a single source of truth for information, allowing multiple teams to work on a project without inconsistencies. This takes out a good deal of guesswork between your design and development teams; if both teams are working with the same information, you get fewer surprises. 

A design system framework can’t turn your coworkers into expert communicators, but it will cut out a good deal of confusion – especially between teams. With a single source of information, people don’t need to find someone every time they have a question, they can find the answers themselves. 

There are also ways to maximize the communication benefits a design system framework offers. Using a shared language (labeling each element in a similar and intuitive fashion), can further ease the transition from design to development; and if you really want to crush it in the communication department, you could send out notifications to your team when changes are made. 

Allows For An Iterative Approach 

Software and technology are constantly evolving, so updates and new programs need to be released as soon as possible if you want to stay ahead of the curve. For that reason, one of the most useful aspects of a design system framework is that it allows for an iterative approach, one that allows creators to continuously grow and improve their design. Utilizing an iterative approach means that you can build on and edit the work you’ve already done, instead of starting from scratch every time you wish to release a new version of your software. 

Barring a handful of exceptions, this is the best road to take with software development. People don’t have much patience when it comes to bugs and updates; if your software isn’t iterative, people may resort to competitors with faster turnaround times. 

Vice Software Is Here To Help 

When you’re racing against time, there’s no room for unnecessary mishaps. A design system framework doesn’t just prevent wasted time from poor communication; it eliminates the tedious task of updating recurring elements one by one. Even better, since design system frameworks safeguard against error, you will likely have fewer revisions to make (and those revisions will be easier to handle since design system frameworks allow for an iterative approach). 

Vice Software understands the power of a well-made design system framework, and we also know that one size doesn’t fit all. From the first discovery call all the way to product launch and beyond, you can expect custom, creative solutions for your software. Using our modern toolkits and lean development methodologies, we won’t make you a cookie-cutter design framework, we’ll build the framework your company needs. 

If you’ve got big ideas, software in need, or if you’re ready to start developing – get a quote from us today! We’d love to work with you.

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