Transforming design into action: a complete guide to implementing an effective Design System

Torresburriel Estudio
5 min readFeb 14, 2024

The power of a Design System lies in its ability to foster coherence, efficiency, and collaboration in the design process. But how is it successfully implemented?

Photo by La-Rel Easter on Unsplash

In this final article of our series on Design Systems, we’ll explore the key steps, address common challenges, and highlight best practices for creating and maintaining a Design System that transforms how your organization approaches design. We’ll also look at some successful cases.

Step 1: assess current workflow and define objectives

Before diving into implementation, it’s crucial to assess your current workflow. Identify problem areas and specific needs of cross-functional teams.

Based on this assessment, define clear objectives for your Design System. These goals will guide the implementation process and ensure that the System meets your organization’s real needs.

Step 2: create a cross-functional implementation team

Collaboration is key to the success of a Design System. Form a cross-functional team including designers, developers, and other key roles.

This team will be responsible for decisions related to the System’s structure, design guidelines, and ongoing evolution.

Step 3: establish standards and guidelines

Setting solid standards and guidelines is essential for visual consistency and a coherent workflow.

  • Define guidelines for visual styles, components, interactions, and accessibility.
  • Document these guidelines in a centralized style guide for all teams to have a reliable reference.

Documentation can take different forms, such as style guides, technical documentation and visual examples. Use tools like Confluence, Notion, or design-specific tools like Figma for efficient creation and sharing of this documentation.

Step 4: conduct testing and adjustments

As you implement the Design System, thorough testing is crucial to ensure it meets established objectives. Gather feedback from teams and make necessary adjustments.

These tests will ensure the System perfectly fits your organization’s needs.

Step 5: provide training and workshops

Implementing a Design System can bring challenges like resistance to change or lack of adoption. To overcome these, it’s essential to:

  • Communicate the benefits of the System.
  • Provide detailed training and demonstrate its value through practical examples.

To accomplish this, provides training sessions and workshops to educate multidisciplinary teams about the Design System. Encourage participation and answer questions during these sessions. And always keep in mind that these trainings play a crucial role in the effective adoption of the Design System and allow teams to become familiar with its components and the entire methodology of working with the System.

Step 6: encourage iterative improvement

Design Systems require continuous improvements. Regularly gather feedback from teams and users to identify improvement areas. Through feedback-based iterations, the Design System will evolve to maintain its relevance and value.

A Design System is dynamic and evolves over time. Be sure to keep the documentation up to date as the system grows and changes. Collaboration between design and development teams is key to ensure that the documentation accurately reflects the different elements of the system and its objectives.

Step 7: implement and promote collaboration

Start implementing the Design System incrementally in projects or teams. This gradual approach will immerse the organization in the System’s culture, promoting collaboration and adoption of its different elements. Provide constant support and collaboration channels to ensure effective integration into the workflow.

Step 8: evaluate and refine

Maintaining the System is as important as implementing it. Encourage ongoing collaboration between design and development teams to ensure the System evolves with changing needs. Manage product evolution over time through planned updates and regular evaluations.

  • Continuously assess the Design System’s impact.
  • Gather feedback and key metrics to evaluate its effectiveness in terms of efficiency, collaboration, and consistency.
  • Use this information to refine the Design System and align it with the organization’s evolving needs.

Successful Companies with Design Systems

Let’s look at some examples of companies that work efficiently with Design Systems. We mentioned Spotify in our first post and Google’s Material Design in the second. But IBM and Airbnb are other great examples that demonstrate how a Design System can positively transform businesses and user satisfaction.

These companies have achieved consistency in design, greater work efficiency and an improved user experience.

IBM’s Carbon Design System

Launched in 2017, Carbon Design System has become a key tool in IBM’s design strategy.

Its history dates back to IBM’s need to address the increasing complexity of its hundreds of products and platforms. As IBM expanded its presence in various industries and developed a wide range of products and services, it faced the challenge of maintaining consistency in design and user experience. Different teams within IBM were working on separate products with varying design approaches, leading to visual inconsistency and duplication of effort.

To solve these problems, IBM recognized the importance of adopting a more unified approach to design. Carbon Design System emerged as a solution to provide consistent design guidelines and reusable components that could be shared across all teams in the company. The goal was to create a consistent and efficient user experience, regardless of the product or platform being developed.

Carbon Design System has helped streamline the design and development process, improved the user experience, and fostered a user-centered design culture throughout the organization. Their story reflects how adopting a Design System as a design work strategy can have a significant impact on the way a company approaches the creation of products and services.

Airbnb’s Design Language System (DLS)

Airbnb has set a standard in the implementation of Design Systems with its Design Language System (DLS). This success is due to a strategy that combines collaboration, adaptability and innovative management approaches. Effective collaboration between design and engineering teams has been critical to maintaining quality and consistency in their products, an effort supported by their focus on bridging the gap between these disciplines.

The DesignOps initiative at Airbnb has played a key role, centralizing tools and services to increase efficiency and quality across the organization. This approach, inspired by the principles of the DevOps movement, has enabled better integration and collaboration between the different teams.

Airbnb has also shown a remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of design challenges. With the diversification of their products and services, they have refined their Design System to ensure consistency and predictability, using technologies such as React for user interface and component management.

Finally, initiatives to improve collaboration and engagement with the Design System have been key. Through critique and feedback models, Airbnb has encouraged greater designer participation and collaboration, which is essential to the ongoing development and maintenance of the DLS.

These combined elements have helped Airbnb not only maintain, but also constantly innovate in design across its platforms and products.

Conclusion

In summary, successfully implementing a Design System is a holistic process requiring planning, collaboration, and commitment. By overcoming challenges, maintaining documentation, and fostering adoption, your organization can achieve exceptional visual coherence, work efficiency, and outstanding user experience.

Embark on this journey towards design transformation and make a difference in your projects and products!

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Torresburriel Estudio

User Experience & User Research agency focused on services and digital products. Proud member of @UXalliance