The Ultimate Guide to Design Systems

Table of Contents
Philip Wallage
Creative Director at

We are BTNG​,​ a Holland-based digital agency. We’re all about offering excellent solutions to our valuable customers by exceeding their expectations. We help firms to accomplish all of their organizational goals by implementing the concept of "Design Thinking." It requires bringing the corporations and their user's needs into line.

Once they are matched, we give the most terrific and high-class experience along with our clients and then examine it with actual users. It aids our clients to accomplish working excellence. With BTNG's unique customer-centric approach, you can experience the best results.

BTNG caters to many areas of expertise, one of them being "Design Systems." In this Ultimate Guide to Design Systems​ blog, you too can learn everything about Design Systems.

So how can you ensure that these multiple applications continue to provide you the same level of experience and style? Here is where Digital Systems come into action.

What is a Design System?

In the past years, the Internet has seen and undergone drastic transformations. It has grown from being raw to more refined and polished—the common issues such as the absence of videos, typographies, and entertainment are long gone.

Companies that are better off have their applications as well. So how can you ensure that these multiple applications continue to provide you the same level of experience and style? Here is where Digital Systems come into action.

A design system comprises a succession of components that are often reused in a variety of combinations.

Basically, a design system enables you to administer all your designs at scale. One sound design system is capable of delivering excellent uniformity and consistency.

Systems design has been in use for quite a while now, but its application into our work processes is still new. There is much more to design systems than just a handful of fonts and colors.

It is a ​fully inclusive system​ that enables companies to provide brilliant quality digital experiences over several applications and devices.

Moreover, design systems provide consistency, which results in positive remarks.

Why you need a Design System

To make it simple, you need a Design System because it provides consistency and efficiency. Moreover, saves a lot of money and time. You should be critical about time because time is money.

1. It saves you money and time

Though it may appear like you are adding layer after layer, the primary role of design systems is to improve your efficiency levels. This can be clarified through the following set of questions:


  • Do you wish your products should have a consistent appearance and branding and provide a good experience? 
  • Do your products presently comprise various styles of buttons? 


  • Do you have a product range with products having different types of screens? 
  • Do you think your products are likely to experience growth? 


  • Do your projects require multiple designers working all at once?
  • Do you feel the need to transfer the responsibilities of one person to another a lot? 


  •  Do you want your front-end developers, visual designers, etc. to work efficiently 
  • Do you wish to speed the process so that they can save time?

2. Developers and Designers can work together efficiently.

There are specific protocols for working with design systems. For instance, designers are bound to be more systematic in their work. Front end developers have been practicing this for quite a while now.

When design groups establish a design system, they usually begin thinking like their fellow teammates and sometimes even communicate in the same language. Hence, when your teammates start to speak in similar terms and engage in problem-solving, the work can be done faster and better.

User Experience is better known by its abbreviation, UX. Typically, User Experience is all about how an individual feels when they interact with a system. This system could either be a web application, an online website, or even desktop software. In current circumstances, it is usually signified by any means of human-computer interaction (HCI).

As mentioned above, design systems save a lot of time and encourage superior designs and ease of development. This results in better consistency in terms of brands, code, and experience. A Design System can affect User Experience (UX) in a lot of ways.

Reduce inconsistency

Irregular user experience causes confusion amongst users. Design Systems are meant to diminish replications and maintain a more reliable experience over a vast product range. By formulating standardized workflows and elements, companies can generate foreseeable experiences for their users as they shift between different products.

Focus on the user

Developing a common base with similar patterns can save a lot of time. This time can then be utilized for other essential activities such as user testing and research. Design systems can also redirect the focus and efforts towards enhancing the primary features of each project. This leads to the creation of optimal level experience for the users and fulfills individual user goals.

Benefits for the team

The primary users of Design Systems comprise developers and designers. This is a crucial product designed to assist in creating other products and enhancing team collaboration and communication.

Users of design systems may be part of the same team as people who are actually building it. Other than that, these users can be part of individual development teams within firms, junior developers/designers, third-party teams, or partner agencies.

Unless​ there is a shared language, it is hard for a group of people to work together. Each user has a different mindset and set of goals that they want to achieve.

Recommendations, principles, and documentation are the factors that can make everything work out. Looking at the why and how of various decisions and principles is crucial, and so is determining the components and style guide.

The design system guideline assembles all the jumbled pieces and creates valuable user experiences (UX).

The History of Design Systems

Even though Design Systems are rising in popularity in small and large scale firms, they are not relatively new. Modular software solutions emerged in the early ​1960s​. Some fields of study have had a plethora of sources for many years.

Because they have been present for so many years, there can be many reasons why they have recently started emerging in fashion. Similarly, the succession of alterations in how Design Systems are prepared and used contains many lessons for us to learn.

Design System in the 90s

In the '90s, any design aspect used to be entirely controlled by the programmers. This included vivid web-safe colors in heavily pixelated 8*8 fonts, black backgrounds, famous old-school gradients, all of which are returning.

During that period, issues regarding the information structure, web layout, and user experiences did not matter much. It was entirely about dumping anything and everything on a web page to make it look more appealing.

Whichever information could not be included in the page would eventually be denoted via hyperlinks. The lengthy list of rainbow-colored hyperlinks would redirect the users to several other pages that could not be part of the main page.

Learn more about the evolution of Design Systems.

nasa design system signs
nasa design system markings

How to Create a Design System

1. Conduct a visual audit

The first step to creating a Design System is to perform a visual audit of the existing Design System. Which means creating an overview of all current existing interface components throughout your digital products. 

It is essential to conduct a visual audit regardless of whether it is a design for a website, an application, or any other digital product.

Taking inventory and the pictorial qualities of the components allows you to assess the responsibilities this process entails.

2. Create a visual design language

The heart of any design system is its graphic design language. For instance, ​design principles and tokens​ are two factors you should always keep in mind before creating a design system.

A graphic design language comprises 4 top categories. It incorporates all the visible elements that will be used for constructing your digital product. It is essential to consider each ​design elements' role​ in each screen component.


Standard colors in any design system come with 1-3 primary colors that will be representing your brand. You might opt to include different tints (colors combined with white) and shades (colors combined with black) to provide more options to your designers.

Sizing and spacing

The design system used for sizing and spacing looks even better when there are balance and rhythm. A 4-based scale is becoming recognized as the most favorable scale, solely because of its usage in Android and iOS standards and ICO size formats.

For more information, read all about the 8pt grid


The majority of design systems incorporate only two fonts. One is used for the body copy and heading. The other is a monospace font that is used for coding. This can be made quite simple if overloading and confusion can be avoided.

Try to incorporate lesser fonts. This is not only ideal for typographic designing but also keeps performance issues to a minimum, which is often caused by unnecessary use of fonts.


The door to success with pictorials in your graphic design language is proper planning and implementation. It is essential to establish guidelines for icons and illustrations and utilize the best picture format based on the situation.

3​. ​Generate a UI/Pattern Library

Unlike the pictorial audit that has been completed in the first step, this step focuses on your basic UI components. Gather all the parts of your UI, which are currently under manufacturing. This means each form, button, image, and modal. Combine and eliminate all the components you do not need.

4. Keep a record of what each component is and its duration of use

The last step is crucial. Standards and documentation are the elements that distinguish an actual design system from a pattern library. Before you start working on a design system, it is vital to reevaluate your decisions regarding the team required to add life to it. Think of all the people who need to be involved in making it functional. Take note a design system requires more than just designers to operate successfully.


Design System Architecture

The overall structure of a typical design system is stated as follows. However, note that all design systems do not necessarily incorporate all the components that we will mention. Moreover, the design systems that include these components are linked in more or less the same way.

UI Library

A UI library is supposed to be the sole source of truth because it comprises the true operations of UI components. More complex design systems might contain many of these, such as the ones for native Android, iOS, and the Web.

Style Guide Generator

Specific tools such as ​Fractal​, ​Pattern Lab, and ​StoryBook​ can construct an actual style guide via your UI Library codes.

Package Managers and Repositories

Specific tools such as ​yarn​, ​npm​, and ​Nexus​ handle all your UI Library distribution and packaging.

Design Token Repository

Tools to manage, store, and designing tokens all come under this section. Some useful tools such as Frontify​ and AIFE.AI ​, can include design token sources within them.

Visual Design Repository

Folio​, ​Craft​, and Zero Height are a few tools through which designers can share and synchronize their valuable assets.

Visual Design Generator

There is an application called ​React Sketch​, which serves as a fantastic tool for generating graphic design files via your UI Library code.

Visual Design Tools

Figma: the collaborative interface design tool is our choice for creating digital products such as Design Systems.

The design system architecture has been described very briefly here. For complete information and details regarding Design System architecture, check out this information about Design System Architecture​.

Besides the primary question of "What is a design system?" and "How a Design System is created?" There are several other relevant questions regarding design systems that you should acknowledge.

What are Design Systems used for?

Design systems ensure consistency of language and design patterns and lessen the coding time. They can be utilized for single products like a booming web page, or over an entire business brand. When companies have to make a selection between consistency and scale, a design system is the best solution for both.

What are the perks of a design system?

  1. Faster turn-around.
  2. The sole source of truth for designers.
  3. Prevents forming unintentional variations that result in brand inconsistency.
  4. Better user experience.

What are the critical components of a design system?

The majority of the design systems shadow an atomic methodology of design, categorizing the entire process into the following:

Atoms:​ Key components like text boxes, icons, and buttons.

Molecules:​ They can be clustered into organisms that signify large factors like forms, navigation menus, etc.

Learn more about Atomic Design by “Brad Frost”

What is the design thinking process?

  1. Understand what your user needs or wants.
  2. Definition of the problem.
  3. Finding solutions based on previous factors. 
  4. Prototyping and Testing
  5. Finalize the Solution.

Note that if the existing approach has failed or new problems have emerged, you can always repeat the previous steps.

How is a design system different from a Pattern Library or Style Guide?

The most unique advantage of design systems is that they are a centralized and shared collection of computerized assets that developers can rely on. Contrariwise, a pattern library is just a fragment of it, where organisms and molecules are stored.

A style guide is used for informing a design system. It sets the tone, branding, and various designing factors that developers and designers can use to grow, adapt, and use the design system.

In summary, a design system incorporates all of the components. It includes grid rules, typography, atoms, building blocks, templates, and a pattern library and cutting-edge design guidelines.

Popular Examples of Design Systems

You can choose from several different design systems. There are a few examples of renowned designed systems as follows:

These exclusive design systems give you a chance to see the rules, atoms, and guidelines designed to suit each company's requirements.

For instance, Material Design by Google is quite general and broad and focuses on UI clarity and convenience. Contrariwise, Polaris has been tailor-made to concentrate solely on Shopify's eCommerce division.

Design System Resources

Some of the recommended resources for Digital systems comprise: books, articles, webinars, web designers, etc. if you are interested in knowing more about what these books, articles, and webinars have to offer to you. Let’s have a look at these design system resources, see if these Design System resources are right for you.

Last words

In conclusion, a design system is a comprehensive product that assists all project stakeholders in creating other products. The more integrated a design system is with developers and designers' workflow, the more useful and practical it will be.

Just like any great products, this too needs to have an individual backlog and needs to be built iteratively. This means keeping your users at the center of the approach, from start to end.

Want more?

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