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Magdalena Jackiewicz
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How to create a beautiful design system in 11 steps?

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When scaling your apps, are you finding it increasingly challenging to keep user interfaces consistent while maintaining efficiency of the product development process? If that’s the case, you may consider investing in a design system – a relatively recent but increasingly popular concept in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design.

Design systems are comprehensive frameworks of reusable components that instill consistency across UI designs to provide uniform experience for customers across the different platforms and product versions. They encompass everything from typography and color palettes to complex UI components and interaction patterns – all documented and prepped for designers and developers to reuse across various projects.

If you’re a CTO or entrepreneur looking to improve the quality of your product and improve time-to-market of subsequent releases, understanding and effectively implementing a design system can be a game-changer for you. In this blog post, I’m delving deeper into the concept of a design system, discussing its components, benefits, as well as how it can revolutionize the way digital products are built.

What is a design system?

A design system encompasses design standards, documentation, principles, and toolkits that enable designers and developers to create cohesive and consistent digital experiences. It’s a comprehensive, single source of truth for creating digital products, providing a unified language and defined standards.

They are used whenever there's a need to design at scale: design systems provide reusable components and patterns, enabling better collaboration among team members and reducing the likelihood of discrepancies and inconsistencies in the final design.

Design systems are being used by companies of all sizes and across industries – tech giants like Google (which developed its Material Design) and IBM (with Carbon Design System) and companies like Airbnb (Design Language System) and Uber (Base Design System).


Key design system components

There are several crucial components in a design system, each serving a unique function and collectively forming a cohesive and functional whole.

  • Design principles: the set of values that steer design decisions. They encapsulate the essence of a brand's personality and provide a moral compass for designers.
  • Style guide: a visual reference that sets out the rules for using elements like typography, color palettes, iconography, buttons, form fields, images, on-hover animations and other interactions. It should be detailed and exhaustive so that designers (also new ones that join the project team) were able to use it to maintain consistency.
HosPictura style guide prepared by Outcraft. Source: dribble.
  • Pattern library: a collection of reusable design system patterns – the solutions to common design problems that designers can reuse in multiple contexts. It includes of navigation menus, forms, modules, tables and other interface elements that can be used consistently across different parts of the product.
BBC's pattern library. Source.
BBC's pattern library variants. Source.
  • Component library: a collection of coded and tested components ready for use by developers. They can include anything from dropdown menus to entire page templates, each ready for implementation. The design system component library is a bridge between the design and development, ensuring that the product’s final appearance matches the intended design.
Omniscient Component Library
  • Documentation: an exhaustive document that provides clear instructions on how to use the components, patterns, and style guide. It describes the design principles, explains the design rationale, and outlines the modes of application of components and design system patterns. Clear, thorough documentation helps ensure the design system is easy to understand and use, making it a valuable tool for designers and developers alike as your team scales. It may in fact be the most critical component of a design system.
  • Tooling: tools that will help designers and developers use the system effectively are also part of the design system. This can include Figma files for designers, a package manager for developers to install components, linters to enforce coding standards, and testing frameworks for catching errors.
  • Storybook: a user interface development environment that brings all the tools and other components together to illustrate how they can be applied to various usage scenarios.
  • Governance: guidelines on how the system should be maintained, updated, and evolved over time. This could include a process for proposing new components, guidelines for versioning and deprecating old components, and roles and responsibilities for maintaining the system.

Design system vs style guide

These two closely related terms are often confused.

A style guide is a subset of a design system. It focuses primarily on the visual aspects of a brand or product: the use of logos, color palettes, typography, and other visual elements that form the brand's aesthetic. A style guide aims to ensure consistency in the visual representation of a brand across different media.

A design system is more comprehensive than a style guide: it provides guidelines for the overall design philosophy, patterns, components, documentation, and sometimes even the code used in the product. It goes beyond just the visual aesthetics to include functional aspects and principles guiding the user experience.

Design system vs pattern library

These two terms are also frequently used interchangeably, while they shouldn’t be.

Just like the style guide, a pattern library is a subset of a design system. It's a collection of reusable design elements or design system patterns, such as buttons, forms, navigation bars, etc., which can be used across different parts of a product.

A pattern library ensures design consistency by providing designers with pre-designed parts to use throughout a product, offering solutions to common design challenges. It doesn't typically include the design principles, detailed usage guidelines, or any coded components that you might find in a design system.

Design system vs component library

The two terms, again, are closely related, but each has a different scope and role.

A component library is a subset of a design system which functions as a repository of reusable, pre-coded components that developers can use when building applications. The latter can range from small elements like buttons or form fields, up to larger parts such as headers or entire page templates. It is usually accompanied by documentation that specifies how to use each component, but it doesn't include broader design guidelines or principles which are outlined in the design system.

Who is a design system for?

The rise in the popularity of design systems in recent years isn't coincidental. For companies that grow their array of digital touchpoints (mobile apps and web apps will be the classic examples; chat systems that can be used for customer service support, or diverse marketplace solutions, social media platforms… there are multiple options here) and strive to maintain consistency of the design and user experience across the different platforms. Design systems aim to solve these problems.

Design systems can be beneficial across a variety of businesses and industries. The underlying purpose of a design system is to maintain consistency, improve collaboration between the development teams, and streamline the product design and development process. These benefits can be leveraged by companies in virtually any sector. In particular, they can be a significant asset for scale-ups.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Complex products: as your product grows and evolves, so does its complexity. Multiple features and components can lead to inconsistency and duplication of work, but you can eliminate them by building a design system.
  • Scaling teams: when your team expands, it may become challenging to ensure everyone is on the same page as far as design is concerned. A design system offers a single source of truth and a set of resources for all designers and developers, so it makes it easy to make sure everyone follows the same standards.
  • Multiple products: if your organization offers multiple products or services, a design system ensures that each product maintains a consistent look and feel. This is especially important when you want to strengthen your brand by ensuring consistency and offering a unified customer experience across all the products in your portfolio.
  • Frequent updates: if you’re updating your product or release new features frequently, a design system can greatly accelerate the process for you through a library of reusable components.

Overall, design systems can be immensely helpful in those cases, where you have multiple teams or departments working on different aspects of the product. It helps these teams work together more efficiently, aligning everyone on the same page regarding design expectations and standards. Thus, investing in a design system can be an excellent move for a scale-up, as long as it wants to systematically manage the complexities that come with growth.

Implementing a design system won’t make much sense, however, in the following cases:

  • When you’re a small brand working with a single, simple product or service: if you’re not planning to scale rapidly, you may be better off investing the money in other areas of your business.
  • When you’re a startup –a design system may not be needed for your brand just yet; you’ll likely find other priorities that require financing.

Why invest in a design system?

Design systems are relatively new and not every company decides to create one for their brand because it generally requires a substantial investment up front. However, they may not be aware of all of the benefits a design system can help unlock. These include:


A design system's key role is to ensure visual and interactive consistency across all digital products and platforms. This consistency translates into a coherent user experience, no matter the platform the user chooses to interact with your product. It aims to offer an aesthetically pleasing user interface that leaves a lasting impression on the user and bolsters the brand identity.

Productivity boost

By providing a library of reusable UI components, patterns, and styles, design systems greatly boost the team’s productivity. Designers and developers alike can avoid redundancy in their tasks, as they don't have to design or code each element from scratch for each new product or component. Results? Accelerated project timeline and faster time-to-market.

Faster implementation

Ready-to-use components and a clear product roadmap mean that developers can cut the time that would otherwise be needed to build every element from scratch. It also means you can start new iterations and introduce enhancement faster, keeping your product more competitive.

Greater scalability

Design systems provide a flexible framework that allows for easy integration of new features, products, and platforms. This gives businesses a solid capacity to scale and evolve their products  without compromising on consistency or quality.

Collaboration and communication mechanism

Design systems serve as a common language between designers, developers, product managers, and stakeholders. It helps them to establish a joint understanding of your brand, streamlining the design and development process. As such, it makes collaboration much easier for all parties involved.

User experience and satisfaction

A design system contributes to creating a consistent and user-friendly interface. Consistent visual elements, intuitive interactions, and streamlined workflows guided by the system create a predictable and pleasurable experience for the user.

Long-term time and cost savings

While implementing a design system requires an upfront investment, you’ll notice substantial time and cost savings in the long run. The system's efficiency and reusable components reduce the time spent on designing and coding, decreasing man-hour costs. Additionally, the consistency guaranteed by the design system helps to reduce future maintenance and/or redesign costs.

Brand integrity and recognition

With a solid design system, you’ll find it easier to create consistent applications that will ultimately strengthen the recognition of your brand and build trust among users.

How to create a design system? A step-by-step process

Creating a design system is a strategic process that requires careful planning and execution. Here’s the step-by-step process we use to create design systems for our clients:

Step 1: Research

Is a design system worth your investment in the first place? To answer this question, first, understand your business goals, evaluate the existing design patterns, and identify areas for improvement. This is typically done through a dedicated product workshop.

After that, you can proceed with researching user needs and preferences – these are vital to ensuring your future design system facilitates a user-friendly experience. Market trends, competitor product analysis, and industry standards are other important factors to consider during this stage. The knowledge gained from the research will inform the decisions and directions you take in the subsequent steps.

Step 2: Assemble the team

You must have a dedicated, multidisciplinary team to create a design system. A Scrum Master, Project Manager, Designer, Developer, Tester, Interaction Design Expert, Illustrator/Animator, Business Analysts, Marketing, Content Writer, and a Product Owner – all of these specialists can participate in the project, depending on your budget and timeline. Larger projects may even require a Design System Lead.

Step 3: Define scope and goals

It's crucial to determine the scope of your design system, which could cover specific products, modes of interaction or brand elements. This will entail the boundaries of the project, which in themselves can be rather wide. To ensure you create a valuable design system, you’ll also have to set clear goals and objectives for your design system and align them with business needs and user expectations.

Step 4: Identify components

This step is about deciding which design system patterns and UI components should be reusable. It’s important to also define naming conventions and establish a clear taxonomy for organizing these components. Each component must have comprehensive documentation that includes exhaustive usage guidelines, behavior, and variations – which will shorten onboarding of new team members and ensure their design work remains consistent with your other products or services.

Step 5: Design the system’s components and architecture


We typically work with Atomic Design architecture, where you start from the smallest components (atoms) and build up to larger components and structures (check our FAQs at the bottom of the page to understand more about the concept). At this stage, we define design guidelines for typography, color, spacing, iconography, and other visual elements. This step must also involve establishing rules for creating consistent UI layouts and grids, as well as documenting usage guidelines.

Step 6: Create the design documentation

Documentation is crucial to the success of a design system. It should include design principles, guidelines, and best practices. Comprehensive documentation enables designers and developers to use and adapt the system effectively, ensuring consistency across all products and platforms.

Step 7: Develop UI components

Once you've designed the components, it's time to bring them to life. This involves building the UI components using code (HTML/CSS/JavaScript) or design tools like Figma. Ensure components are responsive and adaptable to different screen sizes and devices. This step also involves testing and iterating on the components to refine their functionality and visual appearance.

Step 8: Create development guidelines

Development guidelines are instructions on how to use and implement each component. They should include code snippets, examples, and interactive demos to aid understanding and adoption. These guidelines ensure that the design system can be implemented consistently and effectively.

Step 9: Test and iterate where necessary

A crucial part of creating a design system is conducting usability tests on its components and guidelines, and gathering feedback from end-users and stakeholders. Use this feedback to iterate and refine the system to ensure it meets user needs and business requirements.

Step 10: Conduct training

Once your design system is ready, you’ll have to train designers, developers, and stakeholders so that they know how to use the design system. This training should also cover the value and benefits of the system to foster a culture of adoption and collaboration.

Step 11: Maintain and improve

Maintaining and updating the design system is an ongoing task. As business requirements change and design practices evolve, your design system should adapt. Establish a governance process to manage updates, version control, and contributions from team members. Use feedback, industry trends, and changing design practices to continuously improve the system. This ensures it remains relevant, useful, and effective over time.

Building a design system with RST Software

If you deem that a design system is a good investment for your brand, make sure to pick an implementation partner that can guide you through the process. It isn’t a difficult task, but one that requires a careful and systematic approach.

If you’re looking for a trusted partner, we will be happy to put our expertise to use and create a system that fulfills your specific business goals. Contact us directly via this contact form and we’ll be glad to discuss the details and answer your questions.

People also ask

What are some of the market examples of a design system?

Design systems are becoming an essential tool for many companies due to the efficiency, consistency, and cohesion they bring to the design process. Here are a few excellent examples of design systems:

  • Material Design by Google: launched in 2014, Material Design is a comprehensive design system that provides guidelines for visual, motion, and interaction design across platforms and devices. It introduced concepts such as “material” as a metaphor and “elevation” to portray depth, with drop shadows and lighting. The system also includes resources such as components, icons, color palettes, and typography options.
  • Lightning Design System by Salesforce: Salesforce's design system provides style guides, design patterns, and coded components for creating unified and consistent experiences across the Salesforce ecosystem. It places a strong emphasis on accessibility and community, allowing developers to contribute and improve the system.
  • Polaris by Shopify: Polaris is Shopify’s design system, designed to serve as a compass (hence the name) for all of its product design and decisions. It provides guidelines not only for visuals and interactions but also for crafting content, with emphasis on tone of voice and grammar. It's an excellent example of a design system that considers all aspects of the user experience.
  • Carbon Design System by IBM: Carbon is IBM’s open-source design system for digital products. It contains guidelines on everything from design principles to components, with a strong emphasis on data visualization, given IBM’s business domain. It is community-driven and encourages contributions from designers and developers.
  • Atlassian Design: Atlassian’s design system is another robust system that includes both guidelines for design and content, as well as components. The system focuses on the principle of 'constructive play' – encouraging teams to build, learn and adapt their design.
  • Human Interface Guidelines by Apple: Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines provide detailed advice on designing for all Apple devices, including iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. While not a design system in the traditional sense, it does provide comprehensive guidelines on layout, typography, interactions, and more, helping developers and designers create products that feel truly 'Apple'.

These design systems showcase different approaches and emphases, reflecting the different contexts and needs of their organizations. They serve as good references for anyone looking to establish their own design system.

How long does it take to create a design system?

The time it takes to create a design system can vary significantly depending on the scope, complexity, and resources available. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I can provide some general estimates based on common scenarios:

  • Small-Scale Design System (Basic UI Kit): for a simple design system that includes essential components like buttons, typography, colors, and basic UI elements, it may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
  • Medium-Scale Design System (Standard UI Kit): for a more comprehensive design system that covers a broader range of components, responsive layouts, and documentation, it could take a few weeks to a few months. This includes more detailed design and research efforts.
  • Large-Scale Design System (Advanced UI Kit): a complex design system with extensive components, extensive documentation, design tokens, theming, and usability testing might take several months to a year. Large-scale systems often involve multiple teams and stakeholders, which can contribute to a longer timeline.

Factors that can influence the timeline:

  • Scope: the number and complexity of components and elements you want to include in the system.
  • Research and Discovery: the time spent on user research, understanding design requirements, and aligning with business goals.
  • Collaboration: The level of collaboration and coordination required between designers, developers, and stakeholders.
  • Testing and refinement: the time allocated for usability testing and iterating based on user feedback.
  • Documentation: the effort put into creating comprehensive and accessible documentation for the design system.
  • Resources: the number of designers and developers working on the design system and their availability.
  • Tools: the tools and technologies used to implement and maintain the design system.

Keep in mind that a design system is an ongoing effort. Even after the initial creation, it will require continuous updates, improvements, and maintenance as your product or service evolves and new design patterns emerge.

What is Atomic Design?

Atomic Design is a methodology for designing and organizing user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX) in a systematic and scalable way. It was introduced by Brad Frost in 2013 as a conceptual framework to help designers and developers create consistent and cohesive design systems.

The term “atomic” refers to the idea that the design system can be broken down into its fundamental building blocks or “atoms,” which are the smallest and most basic elements of a UI. These atoms include things like buttons, inputs, icons, and typography.

The Atomic Design methodology consists of five distinct levels, each representing a higher level of abstraction and complexity:

  • Atoms: at the lowest level, atoms are individual UI elements that cannot be broken down any further without losing their meaning. Examples of atoms include individual buttons, form elements, and icons.
  • Molecules: molecules are created by combining two or more atoms. They represent simple UI components that have a specific function. Examples of molecules include a search form (combining an input field and a button) or a navigation menu (combining several button atoms).
  • Organisms: organisms are more complex UI components that are made up of molecules and atoms. These are larger sections of the interface that serve specific functional purposes and are more recognizable as discrete components. Examples of organisms include headers, footers, and product cards.
  • Templates: templates are higher-level structures that define the layout and composition of a page or a section. They establish the placement of organisms within a page and create consistency across different pages.
  • Pages: finally, pages are instances of templates filled with real content. They represent the final output that users interact with and experience.

The key benefits of using Atomic Design include modularity, reusability, consistency, and scalability. By breaking down a design system into smaller components and organizing them hierarchically, it becomes easier to maintain and update the system as the project grows.

Atomic Design is commonly used in combination with design systems and pattern libraries, making it an essential approach for creating consistent and efficient UI/UX in modern web and application development.

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