Since Design Systems can be a big investment, we talk about the pros and cons of them for startups and tech companies alike.
by Vytas Butkevicius
Oct 10, 2023
In the current digital landscape, the importance of product design can't be understated for growing SaaS companies. It's a key driver of user engagement, conversion, and satisfaction. As B2B startups strive to meet these objectives, pressing questions often emerge:
"Should we invest in a proper Design System?";
"How can we scale Design?";
"Why is our existing Design System not useful for anyone apart from the designer?".
Design systems, while incredibly beneficial, are also a significant investment. Therefore, it's essential to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
What is a Design System?
Before we delve into the advantages and disadvantages of design systems, let's take a moment to define what they are. Simply put, a design system is a collection of reusable components, guided by clear standards, that can be assembled together to build any number of applications. These components could include buttons, forms, layouts, color schemes, typography, and more. Most importantly, design systems include detailed guidelines and documentation on how to use these components and patterns for developers to make sure the finished product looks as close to the design as possible.
Pros of Implementing a Design System
Now that we understand what a design system is, let's consider the various benefits it can bring to a B2B startup.
1. Consistent Design Throughout Your Products
The first and most noticeable advantage is consistency. With a design system in place, your products will have a cohesive look and feel, regardless of the platform or device they're accessed from. This consistency enhances the user experience and reinforces your brand identity across all touchpoints.
2. Manage All Components Easily
As your company grows, the number of products or features you offer will also increase. Managing the design aspects of these numerous entities can become a daunting task. However, with a design system, you can streamline this process, as the components and guidelines are already defined and readily available for use.
3. Easy Theming
The versatility of design systems is another compelling advantage. They allow you to easily switch between different themes such as light, dark, or even themes specific to different products (ProductA/ProductB). This flexibility not only enhances user experience but also enables you to adapt quickly to evolving design trends or user preferences.
4. Big Library of Components to Build New Products and Features
Having a vast library of components at your disposal accelerates the design and development process. Instead of building everything from scratch, you can use pre-built, tested components to build new products or features, saving time and resources.
5. Helps Designers Be on the Same Page
Design systems provide a common language for designers, eliminating potential confusion or misinterpretation. They also ensure that every designer, regardless of their experience level, can produce consistent, high-quality work.
6. Closing the Gap Between Design and Development
Design systems are not just for designers. They also play a crucial role in bridging the gap between design and development teams. With a well-documented design system, developers have a clear understanding of the design elements, leading to faster and more accurate implementation.
Cons of Implementing a Design System
Despite the numerous benefits, implementing a design system is not without its challenges. Here are some potential drawbacks to consider:
1. Expensive - Takes a Long Time to Build It
Creating a comprehensive design system is a significant undertaking that requires considerable time and resources. It's not just about creating components; it also involves documenting guidelines, training the team, and integrating the system into your workflow. For a startup operating on a tight budget or timeline, this could be a daunting investment.
2. Probably Need Design Tokens to Manage
Design tokens are an integral part of a design system. They are the visual atoms of the design system — such as color, typography, spacing — defined by values. The management of these tokens can add another layer of complexity, particularly for companies that may not yet have established robust design workflows or resources. We wrote more about design tokens here.
3. Benefits Only When the Product is Bigger
The benefits of a design system become more apparent as the complexity and size of your product portfolio grow. For smaller startups with a limited range of products or features, the return on investment may not be immediately apparent. Therefore, it's crucial to consider your startup's current state and future growth projections when deciding to invest in a design system.
4. Constantly Needs Maintenance
Like any system, a design system requires ongoing maintenance to remain effective. As your products evolve and new design trends emerge, you'll need to update your components and guidelines accordingly. This continuous maintenance can be a significant commitment and requires dedicated resources.
5. Needs Internal Promotion - The Fact That It’s Built Doesn’t Mean It Will Be Used
Creating a design system is only half the battle; the other half is ensuring its adoption. Just because it's built doesn't mean it will automatically be used. Therefore, promoting the design system internally, training your team on how to use it, and integrating it into your workflow is critical. This process can be time-consuming and require additional resources.
Design systems can be a game-changer for B2B startups, enhancing design consistency, streamlining product management, and fostering better collaboration between design and development teams. However, they also come with significant costs and ongoing commitments.
Before deciding to implement a design system, consider your company's unique circumstances, including your product complexity, team size, resources, and future growth plans. Remember, a design system is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and its effectiveness largely depends on how well it aligns with your needs and capabilities.
Ultimately, implementing a design system is an investment in your business. It may seem like a daunting task now, but with careful planning and execution and a professional next to you, it will provide substantial returns in the long run. Whether or not to invest in a design system is a decision that should be made with a clear understanding of the potential benefits, costs, and challenges involved.
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