A well structured design system acts as a unified source of truth to align all team members. With a set of reusable components, principles, and guidelines in place, companies can build products with greater consistency and increased scalability.
The dynamic nature of these systems means that they can continually evolve to suit the needs of the company. Making them a pretty decent investment when considering longevity and growth. However, for many people, building a design system from scratch is a daunting task.
In this article I’m going to share with you some of the best tools and technologies available for building a design system, and how and when you might want to use them.
When developing a new design system, there are a number of existing software options that can help your team develop key components, and store those materials in an accessible way. This can allow your team to start executing the new design system efficiently and effectively across the entire ecosystem.
But before we dive into some examples, let’s first look at why these tools are so impactful.
If you’re building an MVP or prototype, there are plenty of existing solutions you can leverage. Trying to reinvent the wheel, whilst trying to either validate or introduce a new product, will only increase your time to market and sap your resources. With third party UI kits, you can add enough customization to make something that feels unique and genuine to your product, without sacrificing efficiency and research backed experiences.
This can also be effective if your company has defined brand identities and specific style guides already in place. On the other hand, depending on the level of investment you want to make, and the level of unique customization you hope to achieve, it might be warranted to create something new from scratch.
At Crowdlinker, we do both! Depending on our clients needs, our developers can create totally custom, thorough design systems from scratch, or leverage third party UI kits to build sophisticated solutions in less time with fewer resources.
Although a completely custom build will require a larger investment, once it’s built, each time you want to create something new you can simply call upon these carefully curated components.
Ultimately, your design system is there to unify the visual language across all of your products.
For expanding companies with multiple services or product offerings, this cohesion delivers a better user experience.
As promised, let’s go through a few examples of design system software, and how they can be applied.
This free open source tool is used by designers for building UI components in isolation. Storybook can also be used as a style guide to document UI component usage and props.
Chromatic automates the gathering of UI feedback, visual testing, and documentation for Storybook. This helps teams to iterate faster, while keeping the UI consistent.
A central hub enabling designers, engineers, product and marketing teams to engage with your design system. Zeroheight helps to connect and align all team members, so that they can create design system documentation in a collaborative way.
Our teams typically use Storybook in combination with Chromatic to create design libraries that can be referenced easily by all interested parties.
When it comes to building UI components and resources, there are a number of tools and systems that help our teams. The benefits of each UI kit, library, or framework varies between software, but generally all of them will help our teams to -
Instead of spending hours creating each component from scratch, an established library allows designers to mix and match the existing elements and maximize their workflow.
The components within these libraries are already known to create a seamless experience for users. Meaning there’s no need to create new layouts, widgets, buttons, or even typographical settings.
Not only do these libraries help us to stay relevant with trends, UI kits help us to develop user-friendly front-ends with important practices such as web accessibility already built in. Freeing up more time for innovation and creativity.
With the option to build completely custom designs, we can make sure each solution is unique to fit our clients needs. That includes specific branding, product goals, and company values.
At Crowdlinker, we also use renowned visual component libraries such as these:
AntDesign is an Enterprise-class UI with a set of high-quality React components and demos for building rich, interactive user interfaces.
Material-UI (MUI) is a CSS framework that provides ready to use React components that follow Google’s Material Design.
Tailwind CSS is a utility-first CSS framework built to ease frontend development. Stacks of pre-existing classes means you can create custom components without writing any custom classes or code.
For more details about the benefits of a design system, as well as key features and practical advice for partnering with a digital studio, you can check out our article How we create design systems for our clients.