4 small but value tips to don't feel so tied when using a design system (and some good links)

4 small but value tips to don't feel so tied when using a design system


Felipe Sbravate

3 years ago | 3 min read

Link to the original publication

A few weeks ago, a new colleague reached me out asking what’s the best way to use our design system. Researching around the internet I found that many designers still have some questions about how to use a componentized system and still being creative when designing solutions for their projects. So I decided to write some tips that I wish I have had and that I believe can help you to get rid of the moorings that a system may seem to give.

1. Be aware of why you have a design system

Having the notion of the importance and the reason every tech company strives to have the best as they can when it comes to a design system will help you a lot for every new task or project you’ll face.

A design system is a facilitator that every designer wants, it helps not only making products consistent visually but mainly helps to give you more time to think on the problem instead of on visuals.

I'll put at the end of the article some good articles about design systems.

2. See how your colleagues are using it

There’s no shame having questions when designing, mainly when you are starting to use a system. Reaching your colleagues can be the key not only to understand how they use the components, but you also can get a lot of inputs on how to extract the maximum potential from the design system, hence delivering better solutions.

3. Think on the real problem first, visuals later

We all know that before starting any project, research and investigate are the very first steps we need to take. So doesn’t matter if you have an amazing design system, full of components, compositions, and even interactions if you still don’t understand and don’t have a clear idea of the problem. I use to say that design is a combination of problem-solving, efficiency and aesthetic, and I put problem-solving first every time I say it because the other two factors only exist when we have the first one. The system is your best friend to lapidate and turn your ideas into visuals, but this alliance fails miserably when you try to use it as a short-cut when it comes to problem-solving. Problem and investigation first, visuals later.

4. Have in mind it’s only a toolkit, not a dogma

This one, in my opinion, is one of the hardest things to figure out when we start to use a system. Many, and I repeat, MANY times, even with the best system we can have, it will never cover all the possible cases. If our Sketch files — or whatever app you use — are never finished due to the infinite possibilities of optimizations our product can achieve, why already existing components and compositions can’t be touched? Design is not binary, what works today cannot work tomorrow and, in many cases, new solutions need to be created. Even having evangelists preaching the consistency in your work all the time, remember always that coherency is what we need to seek. Consistency is a consequence of great design culture in an overall, not only due to the existence of a design system.

So don’t be afraid to change or create new things. A good design needs explorations and iterations in order to achieve the best solution, sometimes ignore the system can be the key, just don’t say it to the design system people.

Here are some links to articles and people that I particularly like and that have much more knowledge than me about this subject. Hope you enjoyed.

General Articles

Setup a design system

The Most Exciting Design Systems Are Boring | Big Medium

Why Design Systems Fail

On Design Systems: Sell The Output, Not The Workflow - Smashing Magazine

Some specialists to follow

Diana Mounter - Medium

Audrey Hacq - Medium

Magera Moon (@mageramoon) | Twitter

Shahrzad Samadzadeh - Medium

Good companies references

Shopify Polaris


Color | Mailchimp

Atlassian Design

Themes - iOS - Human Interface Guidelines - Apple Developer

The Way We Build

Lightning Design System


Created by

Felipe Sbravate







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