Alexander H. Black

Why All My Projects Use Design Systems


Why all my projects use design systems

I’ve been a contractor for the entirety of my career in tech. Whether it was Tinder, MIT, or a client contracted to my own agency, I’ve been that guy for years who was a plug and play, stopgap solution. My entire career has been predicated on “Get in, do the job, get out cleanly”. It’s been fun, and it’s given me a very different perspective on how to get jobs done. It’s why I became an engineer as well as a designer.,

The biggest thing I took away from being so dynamic was pretty simple: “Make sure what you do is easy for you to do again, and even easier for the next person to do it too”. As developers, designers, and even devops, It’s important for us to not only do our work, but make sure the next person can come in and do it well. If your documentation is detailed and simple enough, it’s easier to work with teams, pass off final products to clients, and know our former employers won’t be sunk without us.

I’m a designer, albeit with some strong engineering skills (how many designers reading this can spin up a Django project, schema a database, and connect it to a React project?), but I am a designer first. I like the unrestricted freedom of visual tools, but that freedom can sometimes run rampant. I love creating beautiful UI’s, but they need reigning in with Gestalt theory and other aspects of UX. Design systems help keep things under control.

Design systems literally shaped how I approach a project. When designing, I first create a series of rules and components so that I can re-use anything throughout a project. As these are subject to change as a final design comes together, this allows me to update a single component and have it update everywhere it’s used. As an engineer, it has strengthened my ability to architect, build, and maintain component libraries in React, understand the relationship between objects, and even schema out a database with this knowledge.

This is why I love design systems so much. It solves so many amazing problems products and team face today. They make everything easier, faster, more efficient, and allow development and design to be streamlined and shaped in a way to optimize success.

Just to summarize a few of the major points:

  1. Consistency - Any page or feature created for an application or product will adhere to the same design as the rest of it UNLESS for specific and purposeful reason, it’s chosen to drift.
  2. Components - For developers, this makes all the difference. Developers and designers alike can look at design systems and create a system of components (with various states) to reuse throughout products, cutting out time in the overall process.
  3. Collaboration - A well-thought design system will detail why a certain design was selected and how to use it. New and old team members alike will benefit from this and allow everyone to get on the same page quickly
  4. Centralized Hub - All documentation and designs are found in a centralized location, allowing for easy lookup (and even augmentation) of components and rules.

It’s because of all these that I’m creating an easy to use Figma Library that’ll speed up the process of setting up a design system, as well as designing applications and products using them. I’ll be opening that up soon, so standby. (If there’s enough attention on it, I’ll even create a Sketch version for you Sketch users.)

It really was an accident all of these began with a C (C is for consistency, that’s good enough for me), but the points of all these stands. Design systems can bolster any project, whether or not you’re a developer or a designer. I encourage anyone, especially juniors, to take the time to learn how they work and take their own abilities to the next level. This was a simplified summary of how these work as fantastic people (Post some links here) have talked about these in great detail and I just wanted to write this post to inspire more people to take the time, especially those who think these would never apply to them.

Design systems are fantastic, everyone wins with one in place, so whether it’s a personal project, you’re looking to developer your skills further, or you’re working at a full-fledged organization, take the time to learn how these work. `