Does every project need a design system? (Part 4)

2 minute read

This is part 4 in a blog series about our approach to creating a shared design system for myHAZ-VCT PLATFORM.

Does every project need a design system?

Overall, creating a design system from scratch wasn’t a smooth ride, but it helped us achieve our goals - the three applications had a consistent and unified look, and we could focus on the interactions and user experience instead of thinking what shadows or border radius to use on each element. However, we haven’t tried to apply a different theme (e.g., dark theme/light-on-dark color scheme) for this platform. It might be a challenge for the future.

Creating a design system for one, even though large project can be a challenging task. For a design system to stay relevant it has to be managed and updated. Otherwise, it can go out of sync with the projects that rely on it quickly.

It’s often easier, especially on smaller projects, to rely on other libraries like Angular Material, Bulma, Sematinc UI, etc. You might loose the brand unity, but you save time.

I saved the drawbacks of design systems for the end:

  • they take a long time to create
  • they have to be maintained to stay relevant
  • they require buy-in from the whole team
  • accessibility can be neglected sometimes

And a few things we learned in this process:

  • Keep the design system modular - break up larger components into smaller ones.
  • Focus on the small things - consistent fonts, limited color palette, limited button styles - and it will create more visual harmony on the larger scale
  • Get feedback from other team members early to see whether those components work in their applications and how well they integrate with other UI elements.
  • Think about accessibility early - UI elements should be keyboard accessible, text and background colour contrast should be hight enough, etc.
  • Add a prefix to your class names so they don’t conflict with other libraries that might use the same name (.-mh-table, instead of just .table). We learned it the hard way when we found out another library was using the same class name.

If we were to do it again, we might use Storybook. It seems like a promising way to create and maintain component libraries, that is being adopted by many big name projects and organizations.

However, for the benefits that design systems provide to become real you have to invest time in them, use them in more projects, make them more visible and make them more easily accessible.

Creating a new design system for each project is not useful. Since you want to eliminate duplicate work it might be easier to rely on external libraries.

Brad Frost, in his book ‘Atomic Design’, says that ‘A design system should be a long-term commitment with the ambitious goal of revolutionizing how your organization creates digital work.’

See more design systems examples at Design Systems Repo