< back to Email

What Is A Design System?

When talking about a design system a lot of people assume you’re talking about brand guidelines or a style guide, but in fact, that’s only one aspect of a design system. Design systems in basic terms is a collection of a style guide, assets, reusable code and reusable designs also known as a UI kit. All of these together have rules that need to be followed to ensure scalability and consistency throughout your projects. A lot of articles around the subject use the analogy of Lego, design systems allow the designers to assemble pre-built bricks rather than building each brick individually and then assembling them.

Nathan Curtis explains it in this quote:
“A design system offers a library of visual style, components, and other concerns documented and released by an individual, team or community as code and design tools so that adopting products can be more efficient and cohesive. (source)”

Why Use a Design System

  1. Scalability
    It’s very easy for businesses to fall into the trap of creating emails from scratch in some Frankenstein style fashion. There are many reasons for this, some of the older businesses may only send a few emails here and there, maybe the designs are very specific or my personal favourite “it’s the way we have always done it”. Over time, the number of emails that are being sent on a daily basis is constantly growing and if businesses are coding each one from scratch, there will only be a certain amount of emails that can be created in any specific time frame. With the use of a design system with predefined sections that can be reused in various ways, businesses can increase the speed they are outputting emails allowing more time for other clients and even more emails.
  1. Consistency
    Consistency is possibly one of the biggest benefits of a design system. When designing and putting together a large number of emails consistency is always an issue because there may be multiple staff working on the same clients work each with their own way of doing things and that’s when things start to get tricky. The design has a huge impact on how successful email campaigns are and if you get three emails from the same company but they all look slightly different, the business’s reputation could easily be tarnished. A good example to imagine is getting two emails from a high-end brand such as Rolex, one email uses the same font from their website and the other uses a different font, although the difference may be minor it can make a big difference in how the brand is perceived.
An extreme example but simply changing the font can have a huge impact
  1. Efficiency
    According to the Litmus 2018 State of Email Workflows, design and coding are two of the most time-consuming aspects of email production. With the use of a design system, the time these two aspects take can be dramatically reduced because designers would have predesigned sections to organise and the developers would have precoded sections to align to the design, combining these two would massively increase the efficiency of the email production lifecycle
  2. Teamwork
    Apart from the design and development aspects of the design system it also aids in how teams get things done. The design system effectively keeps people on the same page so that everyone is doing the same job, in the same way, making everything run a lot more smoothly throughout the development.

What To Consider When Creating A Design System

The implementation of a well-built design system is an invaluable tool to any businesses, having said that there are going to be some things you should be aware of.

  1. Work Through The Pain
    When implementing a design system there are always teething issues with various aspects of the business just like there is with any other major change. One of the main pitfalls that you would see businesses falling into is when the design system is treated as a side project unless it is the main focus it is more than likely to disappear into the background. When a business looks into implementing a design system, all the focus needs to be on that, although time-consuming and painstaking at the time just think of how much time could be saved in the future.
  2. The Constraint
    It can be constricting to the people involved, for example with the use of a design system in email marketing there are predefined elements, predefined code and a predefined way of doing things. This speeds up everything massively but it can remove the creativity out of a project. The other aspect of this is that you need to know when another element needs to be created and added into the mix. A good example of this could be when a company requests a section that hasn’t been used before, a new one will have to be built specifically for the situation.

How It Can Impact Your Business

Although the implementation of a design system can be time-consuming and have teething issues as we have mentioned in what to consider section, once the system is in place the advantages massively outweigh the disadvantages. Simply put a well-built system saves time, cuts costs, removes most if not all of the guesswork and increases the scalability of your email marketing. Every business should have a design system and if you don’t there are plenty of tools and guides out there to help you along the way.

Contact the Colewood team for your bespoke design services here. Alternatively, drop us an email for any help or advice that you may need.