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Alion | Design systems: the future of interaction design

Design systems: the future of interaction design

Alion blog author

Stephen Carnay

10 August 2018

min read

Alion blog intro image

Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not, but design systems are hot right now. Big names such as Airbnb, Facebook and Shopify swear by them and Google even offered its own 'Material Design System' as an open source web service with internet best practices incorporated. But why are design systems so popular?

First things first: what is a design system?

Nathan Curtis, founder of UX agency EightShapes and author of several books on this subject, describes a design system as follows: 'A design system offers a library of visual style, components, and other concerns documented and released by an individual, team or community as code and design tools so that adopting products can be more efficient and cohesive. '

"Ok, a styleguide," I hear you think. No, it is not a style guide or house style. At least: it is in it, but a design system contains much more than the rules about color use and typography.

A design system is a living collection of components that is continuously optimized and can be used by both designers and developers. It brings corporate identity and interaction design together in one place; in design and in code. For example, fixed components such as buttons or input fields do not have to be invented and created over and over again, and they can be implemented immediately.

Sounds great right?

Design system from Shopify

The disadvantages of using a design system

Once a design system has been set up, it offers many advantages. But the initial setup is still a consideration. This is a process that requires a lot of time, energy and, above all, knowledge. The result (a collection of components) forms the foundation for all interfaces in the customer journey. They determine the experience of all your users. It is super important that this is well thought through. After that, it is important that all components are designed, built, tested and documented so that everyone can work with them. When I say everyone I mean to say all stakeholders must be familiar with the working method including marketers, engineers, etc. A good implementation therefore requires the necessary commitment.

Is it worth it?

Yes. It takes time, but once it has been implemented the benefits will be apparent. Where designers are often still looking at a blank Sketch artboard with every new product, they now have a complete collection of UI elements available to them. This ensures that there is always unity in all of your digital products, from landing pages to apps. Even if your design team suddenly doubles, or if you outsource development to another party, you can be sure that there is consistency with the rest of your interfaces. Perhaps the biggest advantage: Concepts are made and tested within a shorter time frame. The user experience can now be optimized at lightning speed.

"A style guide is an artifact of design process. A design system is a living, funded product with a roadmap and backlog, serving an ecosystem."
Nathan Curtis

Airbnb uses artificial intelligence to convert sketches to designs.

Design systems vs. Design agencies

If you ask us, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Although more and more companies are busy developing their own design system, most of them are still in their infancy. Airbnb, a leader in the development of design systems, is already working on the next step. With the help of artificial intelligence, their design system actually does all the work. The inventor only has to sketch or write out what needs to be added to the interface, and the system converts it into working components from the collection.

If everything can be automated, are digital agencies still necessary? Although there is a lot of discussion about what the future of digital design is, we believe that design systems give us the space to think about what really matters: an optimal user experience. Here the difference can be made between 'good enough' and grandiose.

Interested in a design system for your brand? We would be happy to talk to you to see what we can do for you. We like to work with InVision and Google Material Design.

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