Close your eyes. What do you see when you hear the words Design Systems?
If a flock of components, guidelines, and UI elements is parading in front of your eyes right now, don’t worry, we see them too. Chances are high that you also see some names next to those components: perhaps Google, Airbnb, Atlassian, IBM, Shopify... It is because the conversation around the topic of Design Systems is mostly shaped by established product companies like these.
However, not all those who create digital products work for product companies. What about design agencies? You would hardly read about Design Systems at agencies. Nevertheless, a lot is happening there too.
Design Systems superpowers
A commonly agreed definition of a Design System is ‘a library of design patterns, rules, and UX guidelines that enables companies to ship and maintain consistent products at scale.’ When we look at it from this angle, we define Design Systems as a product, an outcome. The biggest value it brings to a company is to establish a single source of truth that everyone can point to while growing the product.
At Edenspiekermann, we don’t build and grow one product. We build many. Our projects are fast-paced, with varying lengths and team setups. Sometimes clients come to us with the challenge of setting up a Design System — we created one for the biggest hospital chain in Germany that fuels now over 300 websites and one for an electric sports car in California. More often, we are called to relaunch a product or build its very first version: we start creating a new design language and proceed all the way to defining its USP, positioning, and offering. In those projects, it means that we simply don’t have the resources and time to create a Design System too.
Or so we thought.
Solutions that become problems
In the first phases of a project, when we don’t have components to reuse nor an existing language to build upon, we have to invest a lot of time talking and aligning to ensure that all designs are created consistently. While essential, this part of team communication is often inefficient and very time-consuming — and time is our most guarded asset. We choose speed over documentation and end up being slowed down to compensate for that very lack of documentation.
We realized we needed a solution that would improve our communication to maintain speed without sacrificing design consistency. We needed a way to communicate our decisions more efficiently than calling yet another meeting.
Let’s step back for a second. What is a design system, really?