3 Proven routes to better design system adoption

Your business is on the up. You’re capturing more market share, reaching out to new audiences, and expanding your horizons. Things are going great, but big opportunities often come with big challenges. Especially if the number of design elements, webpages, app screens, and digital assets that you’re having to control is skyrocketing too. You need a design system.

The benefits of using a design system

It’s the best way to ensure consistent digital design, combining your brand style guide with reusable digital components and a set of guiding principles, to create a single source of truth. Creating a design system provides the building blocks that solve specific design issues and challenges related to UX and customer journey. 

Like most system deployments, you have three options when it comes to creating and implementing your design system. You can:

  • Implement an off-the-shelf design system
  • Adapt a pre-existing design system
  • Devise and deploy your own proprietary design system

General purpose design system solutions

When you choose to go with an off-the-shelf design system, you’re choosing a general-purpose solution. It’s designed to work with a wide range of different business models, and its purpose is to suit as many companies as possible. 

This type of design system is intended for mass market use, and the chances are that it hasn’t been built to any one set of requirements. It will offer general tools and system features that many businesses will need. However, this has the potential to create some challenges for you. 

You may have more features and functionality than you could possibly want to implement. That’s not only a problem because you’re paying for more than you need, but it could also distract you and your teams away from the core tools, wasting time and diverting resources.

Adapt a design system or build bespoke?

However, it’s more likely that your off-the-shelf design system just doesn’t have enough functionality to satisfy the needs of your team. And that’s when you may want to adapt the design system components to your own requirements.

Adapting a system will involve more cost and development time, but it will also let you customize the workflow to reflect your company’s own unique needs. However, it’s a game of diminishing returns. As you continue to customize and adjust an off-the-shelf system, all that time you saved and the financial benefits of buying off-the-shelf begin to evaporate away. The further you progress down the adapt-and-modify path, the more sense it would have made to create and deploy your own proprietary design system in the first place.

Design system options, choices and your ultimate decision

At one end of the spectrum, when you implement an off-the-shelf design system you tend to incur lower costs, but you have less opportunities for customization. At the other extreme, devising and deploying your own proprietary design system is going to allow you far more customization, but it will cost you a lot more. 

Not only that, but customization can also leave you lost in a blizzard of features. Important functionality could be left out. This may happen simply because you’ve overlooked it, as most off-the-shelf solutions already ship with essential features as standard. If you're new to design systems and have to provide a list of everything you want from it, then the chances of missing something increase exponentially.

Somewhere in the middle ground, you’ll find customizable solutions that can provide the best of both options. But those customizable solutions could also lead you down a rabbit hole, so be careful and engage an expert.

But there is another way. Here at Youwe we’ve built our own off-the-shelf system for our clients to use. And we’ve done it in such a way that we can adapt it to different customer needs straight out of the box. This saves you time, because a lot of the groundwork has already been done, but without creating too much rigidity. 

We’ll set up the Figma file, adjust some basic components that are easily adaptable to your branding, as well as creating templates for writing the style guide, along with various other timesaving tweaks. You won’t be paying for more than you need, and you won’t outgrow the system either. What’s more, because we built it, it is completely aligned with our development team too.

Ultimately, the route you choose depends on the needs of your business, the developmental expertise of the teams involved, and the size of the budget that’s been allocated to the project.

Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each option, make sure you avoid the obstacles and do whatever works for your business. There is no definitive right answer that works for everyone. And if you want to learn a little more about design systems, then we’ve got just the solution for you. Take a look at our new free guide, Design Systems and the New Digital Frontier, and smooth your route to digital transformation.

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