An introduction to design systems

& how to avoid the 'zombie style guide'

Style guide

Design system

Pattern library


Brand guidelines

Design language

Style guide

  • Branding guidelines / documentation.
  • Visual or 'voice and tone'.
  • Made primarily by and for designers

Pattern library

  • A collection of UI patterns.
  • The code is the documentation.
  • Made primarily by and for developers.

Design system

Generic term including both style guides and pattern libraries (and other design tools).

Why build a pattern library ?


Consistent look & feel across a large app or multiple apps

Faster development and rapid prototyping

Communication tool between designers & developers

How to escape the 'zombie styleguide' ?

Pattern library


#1 Treat the pattern library as a product

Use traditional product design methodologies

  • Find your value proposition.
  • Identify your users.
  • Find out what they need.
  • Keep improving the product through short iterations.

#2 Create an inventory of your (existing) interface

Identify each component to be included in the pattern library

Based on this inventory, discuss and agree on a technical approach

#3 Involve the whole team (esp. designers)

Design tokens

 design tokens throughout the whole pattern library

  • Abstract

  • Centralise

  • Propagate

$color-neutral-20 = #222222;
$color-neutral-90 = #EEEEEE;
$font-size-m = 1rem;
$font-size-s = 0.875rem;
$space-m = 16px;
$space-l = 32px;

Going further :

  • Store design tokens as data (JSON).
  • Create utility classes / modifiers to automate variations.
  • Teach other team members to update the tokens.

An introduction to design systems

By maelig

An introduction to design systems

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