Design systems are a hot topic. And, lately, they’ve reached the attention of nearly everyone in tech. If the goal is to bring consistency across products, design systems are necessary within software development. But the capability of design systems goes far beyond ensuring product consistency.
Consistency is the result of efficient teams and clear communication. Hence, any design system's primary goal is to create efficient flows and language between teams and across the organization.
Critical Elements of a Great Design System
Although no two design systems are the same, they should all account for usability and include user documentation. So, when crafting your organization’s design system, keep these categories in mind:
Rules and principles – These are elements like design principle do’s and don’ts (or donuts, as we call them at Automox), implementation guidelines, and voice and tone directives.
Theming and tokens – These include color schemes, iconography, visual assets, and typography. The standardization of these elements is essential for defining UI patterns.
UI building blocks – UI building blocks include components, templates, patterns, and layouts. With differing layers of complexity, each one should account for varying screen sizes and devices that users might utilize.
At Automox, our design system is called Cosmos.
Cosmos was designed to address everyone's needs. While the early stages of the system focused on delivering a tool for designers, Cosmos now addresses the needs of developers, quality engineers, and product managers.
The system is still in the early stages of maturity, but Cosmos already facilitates easier collaboration and communication between our designers and developers.
Cosmos’s unified language and designs allow Automox designers to spend less time designing pixel-perfect screens or focusing on header sizes and colors. Instead, designers can now focus on problem-solving central design concerns.
In Cosmos, we’ve predefined components and designs. So it’s now easier for our designers to reuse the same interface each time. Instead of opening up an empty canvas, designers can start with predefined designs and tools to support their approach when creating a new page.
The benefit is a streamlined, more efficient process. Plus, there’s a reduced cognitive load for our users. Furthermore, Cosmos allows us to build predictability with our users and establish usage guidelines for each interface component and page design.
Automox’s Principles of Design
At Automox, our goal is to delight and excite our users. We want customers to navigate and complete tasks easily. The ultimate objective, of course, is that our console becomes essential to our users’ daily goals.
Last year, the design system and user experience team standardized simple UI components. We created a baseline that includes:
This year, the same team will focus on creating easily recognized patterns across the app. For example:
Adding/removing of entities
Creation of policies and tasks
The goal is to allow the users to discern repeated patterns across the app easily and, thus, complete tasks quicker than before.
Bolstering Design and Development Collaboration
Like any collaboration, the partnership between design and development can sometimes face challenges.
For instance, the designer may deliver a solution that adheres to requirements. But the developer might not be able to implement the final result due to tech limitations or time constraints. This type of upset in the process can delay deliverables and production.
But, as the design system advances through each maturity stage, the misalignment between design and development shrinks. Through the system’s documentation, developers gain access to knowledge of design principles.
How is this possible? The components designed and documented in the design library now exist in code. This part of the process allows developers to build interfaces faster and minimize the number of component rebuilds.
Shared language on the repetition and alignment of components eventually reduces design and tech debt, making the platform more trustworthy and more straightforward for users to maintain.
Additionally, the maintenance of code and designs becomes easier. For instance, when there’s a need to change a component or element, it can happen in one place (e.g., Figma and component library) instead of implementing changes on every page on the platform.
An excellent design system can also help define user experience requirements and micro-interactions.
For instance, you can determine the behavior of a button (like as a call-to-action) and its interactions. So, what happens when the user hovers over, clicks on, or tabs it? This can all be determined within Cosmos.
All Hands on Deck
As with any Automox product, Cosmos requires maintenance and dedicated roles to assure its success. So we created a governance process that allows designers and developers to contribute to the system and add components as needed.
If a component is utilized more than once across the app, it gets documented and added to Cosmos. The designer dedicated to Cosmos' work adds the use-case and guidelines documentation to the library. The component can change with time, and so can the documentation, based on user needs and wants. Through this approach, everyone can contribute to the final product.
When designers or developers find a missing component or functionality, they can submit a request to add the new component to the library. This way, we ensure Cosmos doesn't slow down the creative process and keep design fluid.
Design systems are not meant to be static, and neither is Cosmos. Instead, the system serves as a baseline meant to change and adapt.
Cosmos Design System Recap
To review, Cosmos can help:
Excite the customer
Create consistent experiences
Speed up production and delivery
Deliver fun, predictable experiences
Prioritize work on the user’s needs and feedback
Our goal is to keep Cosmos useful for everyone and educate teams about the importance of the user experience. In the end, Cosmos’s self-serve model allows developers to implement design best practices in which they support developers too.
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