Training yourself to think in a new way, may not always come naturally, but taking on that challenge is essential to embracing the future of the web. Using a design system, instead of the typical template-based design thinking process, creates space for a website to grow as your needs for the site grow over time.
Beyond the potential for future growth, a design system is valuable to your team right now because it helps designers, marketers, and developers create more effective and efficient content.
For designers, a design system is a way to create with thoroughness, speed, flexibility, and consistency.
The creation of a design system is a time of great consideration, and with so many great systems out there, inspiration is plentiful. During the creation of a design system, a design team will have to consider all of the potential scenarios or tasks someone might encounter while using your site. This helps the team decide on which components are worth investing in and which aren't.
After creating a design system, creating new pages on your website can happen within minutes or hours instead of days or weeks. This task can even be delegated to your marketing team if the documentation of the system is clear, allowing designers to focus their attention elsewhere.
Iteration on the design system itself is also faster and more methodical than templated design. As a design system matures, you will run into less scenarios that aren't covered by your existing components. But when you invariably find a scenario that is unaccounted for, you'll have a clearer understanding of what you need to build, and why you need to build it.
Building a design system is like working with a Lego set. The constraints limit what's possible, yet within those limitations creativity thrives. With a couple dozen reusable design components, you can create hundreds of different layouts. This prevents the rigid feeling of a templated website and allows for spontaneity in the page creation process. We often see clients leveraging a design system to create many new types of layouts that address problems we didn't explicitly design for. When designing with templated websites, it can be a lot harder to address those problems efficiently.
Design systems are a great opportunity to enforce consistency, which is a huge benefit for your website’s audience. Inconsistent interactive elements create unnecessary cognitive load. When your audience has to think too hard, they'll bail.
Also, for designers who design with performance in mind – which should be everyone, by the way – a design system made up of consistent elements will significantly reduce the bloat of a codebase. (More on this later)
For marketers, a design system allows for flexibility, optimized CTAs, and key account-based marketing strategies.
Just as a website can visually grow and change, the marketing messaging can evolve over the course of a campaign. As a marketer, being able to create new web content on the fly – without worrying about bothering a designer, keeps the cost of website maintenance down and saves time.
With good calls-to-action and well designed forms, marketers won’t be beholden to single-cta layouts where you can only convert if someone manages to read through your whole page. Instead, marketers can put CTAs at the precise moment where it will make the biggest impact.
Marketers can also create testable landing pages on the fly, which are quite useful for things like account-based marketing. A marketer on your team could make a private landing page directly for a specific account they're chasing that is loaded with information that is directly relevant to them, all while remaining within a single consistent design system.
For developers, a design system alleviates pain points, ensures better performance, and helps create a more energy-efficient website.
One of the inherent benefits for developers is the fact that creating design systems is just more fun than building one-off templates. Often the biggest pain points in the development process center around inconsistencies or half-baked ideas that should have been considered way earlier on in the process. Creating a design system helps alleviate these pain points early on in the project.
As mentioned with the designers, the consistency and reusability of components also helps developers to optimize website performance. For example, if you only have a few different mechanisms for creating images in your design system, it's easier for a developer to ensure that images are always optimized for every potential screen size.
Developers can also ensure that the loading of assets only happens when someone using your website has indicated that they need this content (usually via scrolling). This reduces the energy used by your website, which in turn reduces your company’s carbon footprint, saves everyone’s battery life, all without sacrificing any aspect of the user experience.
Design systems have something to offer everyone. Designers can enjoy the freedom to create, and the challenge to adhere to consistent standards. Marketers can focus on how to increase conversion rates, without the limitations of pre templated pages. And developers can work more efficiently all while optimizing the website for peak performance.
As you consider that next website redesign, consider stepping back from the world of templates, and embracing the creative process behind design systems.