Design Systems

Design languages for digital products

Dipartimentoper la Trasformazione Digitale

Product Designer


Francesco Improta

Ice breaking

Something about you...

  • What is Design System
  • Why we need one
  • Where should we start?
  • Build it with Atomic Design
  • Create and maintain a Style Guide

It's all about process

  • Focused on designing pages
  • Pixel-perfect
  • Time consuming

But we can't sell websites like paintings

— Dan Mall

A responsive design process is like a scandal

— Dan Mall

What is a Design System

Creating design systems will give us the flexibility we need for working with the unknown device of the future

- Laura Kalbag

There isn’t a standard definition of ‘design system’ within the web community, and people use the term in different ways — sometimes interchangeably with ‘style guides’ and ‘pattern libraries’.

— Alla Kholmatova @craftui

It’s about systemizing the design. That’s literally all a design system means. That’s not to say only designers can do it.

— Jina @jina

What could be in

a Design System?

  • Design principles
  • UX guidelines
  • Development guidelines
  • UI patterns
  • Page templates
  • Design tools
  • Code repository
  • Voice and Tone guidelines
  • Writing guidelines
  • Processes
  • Resources

Do we need a
Design System?

  • Promote Consistency

Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don't have to worry about what will happen. Instead, they know what will happen based on earlier experience. 

 — Jakob Nielsen

  • Promote consistency
  • Faster production

We just copied and pasted a pattern, changed a few things, and in twenty minutes we had built a system that was responsive; it looked great on mobile and it was nice to look at. The status page was one of those pages that not a lot of people will see. We call them the dark corners.

— Federico Holdago

  • Promote consistency
  • Faster production
  • Shared language

The words we choose matter. They represent the ideas we want to bring into the world

— Abby Covert

  • Promote UI consistency & cohesion 
  • Faster production
  • Shared language
  • Recognized reference a community we’re starting to get a bit dogmatic about what design systems are and are not.


— Sarah Federman  @sarah_federman

What do they look like?

Design System


  • Design principles
  • UI patterns

Design Principles

A robust design system should contain guiding design principles

— Sarrah Vesselov | @SVesselov

  • Authentic
  • Authentic
  • Practical and Actionable

Make it useful

Start with needs. Do research, talk to users. Don't make assumptions



Use a fixed size grid

Respect user feedback for any device



  • Authentic
  • Practical and Actionable
  • Memorable
  • Help you to say NO
  • Start with purpose
  • Find shared themes
  • Test and evolve

UI Patterns

  • Tangible block of UI
  • Simple or combine with other patterns
  • Purpose evolves, behaviour remain
  • Lay on top
  • Core of product
  • Express brand image
  • Connect the system
  • Pattern journey map
  • Interface inventory
  • Draw content structure

Design System




Design what's right, not what's most consistent. Dogmatic consistency and established patterns are not what should drive design decisions

- Michael McWatters, UX Architect, TED





How to convince your boss
you should build

a Design System

Design systems take care of the boring 80% of what you need to design, freeing you to concentrate your creativity on the interesting and unique 20%.

— Dan Mall

  • Define guiding design principles
  • Define and standardize reusable patterns
  • Establish pattern library
  • Set up master design file
  • Refactor code and front-end architecture
  • Knowledge-sharing process
  • Encourage and promote patter library
  • Share design language across teams

Style roundup

  • 50 shades of gray
  • Duplicated styles
  • Font sizes and styles
  • Specificity graph

Interface inventory exercise

  • Global
  • Images
  • Icons
  • Navigation
  • Forms
  • Buttons
  • Interactive components
  • Headings
  • Blocks
  • Lists
  • Advertising
  • Messaging
  • Colors
  • Animation
  • Document UI patterns
  • Points out inconsistencies
  • Genesis of shared vocabulary
  • Groundwork for future pattern library

Kickoff your Design System

  • Round up a diverse group of stakeholders, users, and other people who would impact/be impacted by a design system
  • Talk about current workflow, pain points, hopes, fears, dreams, frustrations, and other things that can influence the success of the design projec
  • Synthesize key themes in preparation for kickoff
  • Determine the priority parts of the design system
  • Define what products will consume the design system
  • Highlight the people who will be responsible for making and consuming the design system
  • Establish next steps for how to tackle the parts, products, and people
  • Goal is to define what the system should be, where it goes, and who's involved.
  • Defines goals, principles, and project scope for design system
  • Goals: spell out business and user needs
  • Definition: what exactly will be included in the design system
  • Principles: What are the guiding principles
  • Plan of attack: timeline and scope
  • Open conversation
  • Make the best thing the  easiest thing
  • Design for “grab it quick” efficiency
  • Design for contribution  and community
  • Crowd-proof the markup
  • Fit the workflow
  • Just enough documentation
  • Technology agnostic
  • Embed the brand in the code
  • Make people smarter just by using it
  • Just enough interface
  • Strong and direct
  • Speed is a feature
  • Safety always
  • No tricks or stunts
  • Recycle, reduce, reuse


This means we can break entire interfaces down into fundamental building blocks and work up from there. That’s the basic gist of atomic design.

- Brad Frost

Break a component in smaller pieces. If they're basic (image, heading) it's a molecule. If you get smaller components (cards, media ojects) it's an organism.  




Front-end approach

.o- for global objects
.c- for UI components
.l- for layout-related styles
.u- for utility classes
.is- and .has- for state-based classes
.js- for JavaScript-specific classes
/* btn is Block */
.ds-c-btn {}

/* __icon is Element */
.ds-c-btn__icon {} 

/* --secondary is Modifier */
.ds-c-btn--secondary {} 

Design deliverables

  • Explore visual directions (abstract level)
  • Set voice of tone
  • Establish emotional connection
  • Explore multiple design directions
  • Going from abstract to concrete
  • Replace presentation with conversation
  • Explore concrete components
  • Represent how we start thinking about interface

Set Expectations

A Design System isn't a product. It's a product serving products

— Nathan Curtis

Build a Style Guide

  • Performace
  • Accessibility
  • Editing data
  • Browser Support
  • Should buttons be grouped with forms?
  • Where does go the footer?
  • Pagination is part of Navigation?
Pattern library Function Patterns Perceptual Patterns
Airbnb DLS Components Foundations
Atlassian Components Foundations
BBC GEL Design patterns Foundations
IBM Carbon Components Style
Lonely Planet Rizzo UI Components Design elements
Marvel Components Design
Salesforce Lightning Components Styles
Shopify Polaris Components  Visuals
  • Pattern resources
  • People
  • Pattern status - in progress, review, complete, deprecate
  • Version - i.e. button 1.3
  • Changelog - latest update documentation
  • Compatibility - dependencies, requirements

Let's document!

Maintaining a Design System

  • Ones responsible for maintaining the system
  • Have a birds-eye perspective of entire ecosystem
  • Approve changes
  • Work with users and business to make sure it’s addressing everyone's needs
  • Need to establish a pattern-driven cross-disciplinary workflow 
  • May also be makers, separate development teams, partner agencies, external development shops, and/or other third-parties
  • Provide an on-the-ground perspective focused on specific applications
  • Should coordinate with makers to make sure the system is addressing their needs
  • May be widely distributed and process may be extremely waterfall
  • Essentially a product team
  • UX designer(s)
  • Visual designer(s)
  • Frontend developer(s)
  • Product manager(s)  

The Design System informs the Product Design.
The Product Design informs the Design System.

- Jina Anne

  • Change logs
  • Design system roadmap
  • Success stories
  • Tips and tricks
  • Communication tool integrations 
  • Suggestions and pull requests
  • Individual interviews and round table discussions
  • Requests for feedback
  • Surveys
  • Regular state of the union meetings 


This is fun!


@zetareticoli  -

Design Systems

By Francesco Improta

Design Systems

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