The Comprehensive Guide to Design Systems

January 6, 2023

Big tech companies like Airbnb, Atlassian, and IBM have all designed digital products that allow their teams to increase their productivity with internal integrated design systems. By leveraging a uniquely customized collection of reusable components and a set of guidelines for the use of those components, each company has been able to make their teams more effective in creating and implementing innovative ideas.

Some organizations think that designs systems only include style guides or pattern libraries but that's hardly the case. A lot more is required to create a comprehensive design system. as they include many components. Design systems are meant to be dynamic, scalable, agile, and unique to each organization.

Design systems are the newer, more dynamic version of the conventional graphic guidelines. They can be integrated seamlessly into existing team workflows, enhanced through all other mediums a business uses to interact with its customers.

What is a Design System?

A design system is a set of repeatable elements that can be used as a blueprint to design and develop those elements. It includes conventional branding elements like colors, font, tone of voice as well as brand values, goals and best practices.

Benefits of Using a Design System

Consistency & Scaling

Designs can be created and customized quickly and at scale because it has components, essentially varying design elements, that can be reused over and over. It helps reduce the need to reinvent the wheel because teams can repeatedly use the same tools and component sets, thus, reducing the chance that designs would be inconsistent.


With preorganized elements and rules in place, resources can be spent more efficiently on big, more complex parts of the design requirements. As a result, design can now be scalable when components can be duplicated and reused, effectively reducing the need for additional resources for simple elements.

Cohesive Language

It establishes a professional norm, especially between cross functional teams that might be distributed geographically. For instance, having a unified codex will ensure that everyone is on the same page and speaks the same language, avoiding any unnecessary miscommunications or misinterpretations. 

Improve Training Speed

It can serve as an educational tool for junior designers or third-party stakeholders and contributors that join the team. With an explicit guideline that records all the brand information necessary to achieve the desired outcome, newly onboarded contributors are able to navigate their new working environment more freely with a clearer understanding of the expectations of their output. It can also serve as a reminder for the rest of the contributors involved.

What is Included in a Design System?

Style Guide & Pattern Library

A style guide is a collection of visual elements that constitute your brand identity The guide contains the building blocks of your brand; the visual design language, tone, and examples of how your branded products should look. This should serve as the blueprint for your brand's identity.

The design language of your style guide should include a color palette, typography, imagery set, icons and illustrations. Your style guide will further define your brand messaging, sound, tone and voice.

As an extension of the style guide, the pattern library plays the role of defining the allowed design patterns that will be used in your templates, modules, components and other web elements.

The goal of the pattern library is to clearly define the components and patterns with the customer in the forefront. Navigation accessibility and an improved user experience is essential when building this library.

Core Values & Best Practices

Setting a set of guiding principles and shared set of goals will ensure that your vision for the business is clearly defined and that the designs and output is aligned to your company’s core values.

This will be essential to drive the company’s product purpose, outlining the guidelines on the dos and don’ts of design choices along with usage examples. The goal of this rulebook is to set the boundaries and limitations of where a creative can stray in the seemingly boundless world of design.

How to Build a Design System of Your Own?

1. Determine the goal of creating a design system and who the key stakeholders are.

2. Conduct a brand audit to identify the current brand identity and design elements used.

3. Create a visual design language. This will be the core of your design system and will include the style guide and pattern library. Compile all your discoveries from step 2 and figure out how you can build a cohesive brand identity across all mediums used by your company.

4. Document everything. This is where most companies stop short. The difference between a style guide and a design system is here. Prepare standards and guidelines for each and every component you’ve compiled in step 3. There is no room for clutter here. Only record and retain elements you are using.

In Conclusion

What separates a typical organization from a truly adept business with strong branding is a well-planned design system. Creating one that is solid and flexible at the same time requires a fine balance. Developing a strong design system is how a business can deliver consistent and cohesive customer experiences. Need help developing one or would like to integrate an existing system into your business? Reach out to Mad Creative Beanstalk to get the design quality your brand deserves.

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