The all-inclusive design systems guide

How to design and deliver consistent product experiences with the right tools, people, and process

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Build a unified experience

Modern consumers don’t just want, they expect seamless experiences when interacting with digital products. According to Forrester, 95 percent of customers interact with a company over more than three channels, with 65 percent of people noting inconsistency across interactions as a source of frustration. The evidence is clear. A consistent experience drives positive relationship with customers.

Struggling with inconsistencies online 

Back in 1989, the very idea of the World Wide Web sparked from Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s recognition of the need to overcome the problem of data being stored in many locations, on different computers and programs with inconsistent formatting and availability. His vision led the way for a single means to access and navigate information. Individual documents became accessible across a shared network, consistently navigated. 

The early days of the internet were homogenous compared to the rich experiences offered today, the leading differences in style varied by the quality of the monitor and the brightness or contrast settings. The introduction of managed style on the web came in the form of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). In 1996, Håkon Wium Lie worked to bring newspaper-like styling to better display information in the growing depths of content on the web. The modern internet was born, and the fracturing of digital experiences began.

A design system acts as the single source of truth centralizing all the elements teams need to design and develop a product for customers successfully. Organizations with multiple products, teams, and initiatives are more efficient with centralized, shared services, knowledge, and decision-making. 

“Here’s the simple truth: You can’t innovate on products without first innovating on the way you build them.” 

- Alex Shleifer, Chief Design Officer at AirBnB

Look at any banking website or an internal tool used to perform a task for a large organization. Take stock of each button, form field, color choice, and layout. Each unique element is a new element to process, with each new layout a new pattern to understand. Each of these elements weighs heavily not only on the people using them but also on the teams maintaining them. 

The cost of ownership, paired with the increased cost of doing business, and lost efficiency, means a single choice cascades multiple times throughout an application. Consequently, design systems call upon a series of repeatable components featured in products and its corresponding guiding standards. This white paper breaks down the elements that make design systems successful, as well as answer the important question, “Is it even worth building one?”

The 3 branches of design systems

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