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The Benefits of Creating a Design System

Styleguides have been around for years and have always been important to the visual identity of a company, but the rebrand of the term has given a new dimension to the whole concept.

In the olden days, a UI designer would create a loose interpretation of the basics. An overview of colours, fonts, buttons, and possibly the style of icons and it would be saved away on a hard-drive, only ever to be opened when being sent to external agencies who need a glance at a visual direction for an upcoming project, or new starters to the design team, but it is very rarely held much importance to the actual inhouse designers using it.

The main wealth of knowledge was generally lodged firmly at the forefront of the designers brain. This would mean a constant barrage of issues around trying to remember if a certain visual pattern was used before somewhere. This, 9 times out of 10, would end up in a chaotic mess of inconsistency.

In recent years, the styleguide has been given a refresh, and with the introduction of the concept of a Design System, or a Design Language. With this, comes a whole new approach that can epically effect how a product team approaches design as a whole. With a solid, consistent, well explained and thought out system, the visual aspect of creating a design becomes totally modular. Products such as Craft by Invision or Brand.ai have made the visual design phase almost drag and drop to a certain extent. Creating safety in the knowledge that the elements you’re using are consistent with every other designer on the team. They remove any animosity from the visual design phase, almost to a level where creating low-fidelity prototypes are a thing of the past.

 

“Styles come and go. Good design is a language, not a style.” –Massimo Vignelli

 

I’m not going to use this article as a way to explain how to exactly create a design system. I’ve already written an article around that: Creating a Design System Language. This is more a one way discussion about how a design team can benefit from investing in a design system.

 

 

Over the last few years I’ve been heavily involved in creating design systems across various companies, from startups through to well established organisations. My latest venture has been creating our design system for Qstream.

From very early on in my time at Qstream, I realised how essential it was that we introduced a fresh, working system to our design team as quick as possible. Inconsistencies and poor design choices plagued the product and as the product, and the design team expanded, it was vital to steady the ship and create a language that each designer could totally understand.

And with that, we began to create our new design system, aptly named QUIK - Qstream User Interface Kit.

 

Step 1: Inconsistencies

Again, Im not going to go in too deep for the process as to how we created the system but I’ll give a quick run through as to how we got out of the weeds.

The first thing to do was to do a total audit of the visual components within the product. Brad Frost has put together a great article around how you go about doing a UI audit if you’re interested.

This can be an awful, time consuming, monotonous task, but it is so beneficial. It a) allows you to get a total understanding of where the main inconsistencies lie b) gives you a really good overview of what elements are important and used consistently throughout the product c) gives you a crash course on how exactly the product works and d) allows you to show the wider business the frailties of the existing visual system, and exactly why a new, consistent design system is needed.

 

A snippet of our UI Audit outlaying the inconsistency across the platforms UI.

Step 2: Creating the Elements

We broke down our system was into 3 different entities.

  1. Brand — The Brand Identity of a product is made up from key elements that create the visual identity. Colours, typography and iconography are core to any platform.
  2. Elements — The Elements are made up of the smallest reusable parts of the system. These elements are constantly recycled across all areas of the system. (Buttons, inputs)
  3. Components — A Component is a collection of elements, that are commonly used alongside each other to identify a common pattern within a flow. (Alerts, tables, cards, etc)

 

 

The next step is to prioritise, based on the UI audit, what elements are most commonly used across the product. These will be the first areas you tackle first.

Once we identified the key elements for the system, it was time to start creating the style and rules around each area. We tackled colours, typography, spacing and general iconography first before moving onto the more formed elements such as buttons, inputs etc.

 

A birds eye overview of our whole System to date.

 

Obviously the deeper the system goes the less frequent the elements are used but it’s all part of growing the system and making the overall language as consistent as possible across all aspects of the product.

(We also have another project ongoing around our illustration style but I’ll save that for another article, you can see more around it here)

 

A sample of our illustrative style used across the platform.

Step 3: Implementation

We’re currently in this phase. To be honest, we’ll probably never move out of this phase. One thing that you’ve got to realise before you take on a challenge like this, is that it will never end. You’re developing a product, it’s not a project that will eventually end. It will be constantly evolving and growing.

 

 

All you have to do is to take a look at how product teams have restructured to cater for design system teams, many opting for designers solely focused on working directly on their design system, nothing else. The system has become an integral part of a products core. When created properly, a design system creates focus, clarity and confidence and in turn will create consistency across the product and will speed up the turn around of product development. What’s not to love!

 

“A design system isn’t a project. It’s a product serving products.” — Nathan Curtis

 

Tying up the Systems

Creating a design system that works across the product is one thing. We’re also in the middle of creating brand guidelines as well as outline our design principles. (Again, more articles to follow regarding our process).

We feel it is key to create a solid foundation across all aspects of design before we move any further as without the proper scaffolding in place, it will cause issues down the line. Creating a solid set of guidelines and principles will help guide us in the correct direction when we start scaling up.

The plan, once we have QUIK to a level that we feel is consumable, is to create a Playbook that will house the key features of our products core personality and entity.

  • Brand Guidelines — a set of guidelines that will introduce our brand personality as well as outline key characteristics such as tone of voice, colours, logo constraints etc.
  • QUIK — a system brought together to unite our design beliefs and methodologies across our platform in one central place.
  • Design Principles — The purpose of the principles is to ensure we stay anchored at all times to what is truly important for Qstream and our customers. They will aid us in making decisions that align with their goals.

 

Going forward

We’ll strive to create consistency across our platform. We’ve still a long way to go. Everyone, from all angles of the product team, is fully aware that this is a monstrous challenge, but we’re also equally aware of its importance for the scalability of the product.

 

This article was originally posted at:
https://medium.com/qstream-design/the-benefits-of-creating-a-design-system-65eeae2977c

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Call to action (CTA)

A call to action is a marketing term that refers to a prompt that invokes a response leading to a sale. When referring to a call to action (CTA) in the digital design world we usually mean the interactive element that leads to the next step in the experience - something that needs to be clicked or tapped.

User testing

User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed.

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG (pronounced WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get". It helps identify an an interface that allows user input resulting in an output that is rendered in a similar way. For example; a word processor application interface might resemble a piece of paper,so when printed the user can see how the output will appear.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is an tool that allows a website editor/administrator to manage the content that is displayed. Websites are made of HTML and CSS to create pages. Pages can be hard-coded but would require technical development skills to make changes. A CMS usually allows a person without coding knowledge to amend existing and add new content to a website using a WYSIWYG interface.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design refers to a web page that dynamically adapts its layout to fit the size and orientation of the device on which it is viewed. A responsive design allows for a more optimised user experience across desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones and tablets of varying sizes.

User Stories

User stories allow the functionality of a product or service to be expressed as written descriptions of an experience as seen from the users perspective. The writing of user stories creates a list of design and development tasks to complete in order to create any required functionality.

User Interface

A user interface (UI) is a conduit between human and computer interaction - the space where a user will interact with a computer or machine to complete tasks. The purpose of a UI is to enable a user to effectively control a computer or machine they are interacting with, and for feedback to be received in order to communicate effective completion of tasks.

Personas

A persona in UX Design is the characterisation of a user who represents a segment of your target audience. On a project you might create any number of personas to be representative of a range of user needs and desires. The solutions you design must answer these needs in order to deliver value to your target audience.

Card sorting

A great, reliable, inexpensive method for discovering patterns in how users would expect to find content or functionality. Card sorting is used to test the taxonomy of data with a group of subjects, usually to help inform the creation of the information architecture, user flow, or menu structure on a project.

Brainstorming

A technique used to generate ideas around a specific topic. Often done in groups, but can be done individuals. The process usually involves writing down all ideas around a topic onto paper, a whiteboard or stickies often implying some kind of association.

Minimum Viable Product

An MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis for a product. Businesses building a new product can create a Minimum Viable Product to prove that an idea is viable and warrants further investment. A further benefit being that the next stage of development can be informed by feedback obtained from testing that MVP.

Sitemap

A sitemap is a diagrammatic representation of a hierarchical system. It usually depicts the parent-sibling relationship between pages in a website, showing how sub pages might be arranged underneath their parent groupings. This arrangement forms a map of the site.

User journey

A user journey represents a sequence of events or experiences a user might encounter while using a product or service. A user journey can be mapped or designed to show the steps and choices presented as interactions, and the resulting actions.

Prototype

A prototype is draft representation built to test ideas for layout, behaviour and flow in a system. Prototypes are an indispensable tool for resolving a large number of potential issues in a concept or business before too many resources are deployed to put a design into production.

Wireframes

A Wireframe is a visual schematic that conveys a basic level of communication, structure and behaviour during the design of a system. Wireframes are low-fidelity designs that bypass including a detailed user interface or visual design, conveying just enough to get across the core idea.

Usability

To say something is usable is a qualitative statement about how easy that thing is to use. Usability is an assessment of how learnable a system is and how easy a user finds it to use. The usability of a system or product is a key factor in determining whether the user experience is a good one.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is the design and organisation of content, pages and data into a structure that aids users understanding of a system. A more organised system enables users to more easily find the information they require and complete the intended tasks.

UI Design

User Interface Design is the discipline of designing software interfaces for devices, ideally with a focus on maximising efficiency, responsiveness and aesthetics to foster a good user experience.

UX Design

The practice of User Experience (UX) Design is the coming together of many specific design related disciplines to improve the usability, responsiveness, uptake and aesthetics of a product or service.

User Experience

A general term that covers all aspects of a user's participation while engaging with something that has been designed. Usually when talking about User Experience in the digital design field it refers to the interactions, reactions, emotions and perceptions while using an app, service, website or product.

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