I hope your new year is off to a great start! How are those resolutions coming? You got this.
While we are still in this spirit of “new year, new us,” many of us are thinking about rebranding or evolving our brands—which should feel exciting. What might feel less exciting — but is no less important — would be documenting, systematizing, and standardizing your freshly made-over design system. After all, you just invested all that money into the (re)design—now everyone needs to know how to use it!
For those unfamiliar with design systems, you would (and should be) articulating the design standards and practices used to maintain consistency throughout the company’s messaging, media, products, and services. The system specifies all vital components, from color palettes, typography, and icons, to UI elements, photographic usage, and messaging, helping your teams deliver reliable, strategic experiences across all platforms.
The benefits of having a documented design system are numerous. To begin with, your brand’s identity will be recognized by that consistency; your many individual and strategic choices will build upon one another, as your visibility yields legitimate familiarity. Secondly, documentation improves efficiency in design and development by providing a set of standardized components that can be reused. This saves time and effort, and in increasing productivity, it increases your team’s reach and capabilities. Thirdly, a design system provides a scalable solution for future design and development efforts, making it easier to add new products and platforms to the design system as the company grows. Finally, a design system can increase and improves collaboration between design and development teams by providing a shared understanding of the design language and components. It cuts down on a lot of the frustrations a development team might have with inconsistency in design minutiae. Trust us, this is important.
Having a design system is not enough. Documenting the design system is essential for its success. You are ensuring consistency in implementation, making it easier to maintain and update the system, and facilitating communication and understanding between departments, making it easier for team members to work together and share information.
So, how can you document a design system? Firstly, you define design principles, providing a foundation for the design system and guiding design decisions. For example, did you design the system atomically, or through some other theory? Secondly, you should create a visual language and style guide, which defines the look and feel of the design system and provides guidelines for design components. Thirdly, you should document those design components and their usage, making it easier for designers and developers to find and use the components they need. Even if we were all designers working only with other designers, it would … still be necessary. But the system needs to be understood by non-designers, message makers, developers, and other brand champions.
Finally, you should implement and maintain documentation, keeping the design system up-to-date and relevant. We suggest a design-agnostic tool for documenting so everyone can keep it up to date and everyone can understand it.
Ultimately, whereas design systems are essential for creating consistency in design and improving efficiency in design and development, their documentation is essential for successful implementation, facilitating communication and understanding between teams, and supporting the growth and scalability of the brand itself.