Design Systems – What are they?

Design Systems – What are they?

A design system is a systematic library of how the visual aspects of a product is implemented. And it contains a collection of reusable components, code snippets and other assets. It also explains and guides the designer in how and when to use them.

A design system is a set of deliverables that will constantly grow and evolve with the product. Using a design system helps us maintain consistency and design faster. In the end we want to create the best experience possible for our customers, and design systems helps us achieve this.

It’s easy to confuse style guide and pattern library with design systems. But style guides and pattern libraries are actually a part of the design system. Think of the design system as the big umbrealla that covers everything.


A design system is:
  • The source of truth that eliminates confusion and conflict
  • Makes sure we are consistent on all platforms
  • Lighter, faster loading products
  • Faster design process
  • Quicker development and testing
  • Reduction in design debt when scaling up


So what do we include in a design system?

Imagine every part of an interface visually, and ask yourself: What makes up the product? What does it consist of?

A brand is most often based on certain principles, and they can be described as the look and feel of their product. Their design, or interface, often represents these principles but aren’t really visible. Instead they are expressed visually. These principles are often included in a design system.


Other things common design systems include sections on:
  • Guiding principles
  • Imagery and media (logo, photo, illustrations, icons, diagrams, sounds, video, animations etc)
  • Color
  • Navigation
  • Spacing
  • Copy
  • Typography
  • Accessibility

Typically how big or small, complex or simple, a design system is, depends on the product.


8 design systems to look to for inspiration:


Google Material Design

Material is a design system created by Google to help teams build high-quality digital experiences for Android, iOS , Flutter, and the web.

Apple Human Interface Guidelines

Get in-depth information and UI resources for designing great apps that integrate seamlessly with Apple platforms.

Shopify Polaris Design System

Our design system helps us work together to build a great experience for all of Shopify´s merchants.

Microsoft Fluent Design System

Fluent is an open-source, cross-platform design system that gives designers and developers the frameworks they need to create engaging product experiences – accessibility, internationalization, and performance included.

Carbon Design System

Carbon is IBM’s open source design system for products and digital experiences. With the IBM Design Language as its foundation, the system consists of working code, design tools and resources, human interface guidelines, and a vibrant community of contributors.

Mailchimp’s Design System

Mailchimp help millions of customers around the world grow in their own way. We want to show our customers that building successful business means staying true to yourself. With this brand identity and design system, we hope to inspire them to be bold and creative with their own brands.

Salesforce Lightning Design System

Salesforce Lightning Design System is flexible, scalable, efficient, accessible and living. Its purpose is to improve marketing, commerce, IT, service and sales efforts and allows their users to do the same.

Atlassian Design System

Design, develop, deliver – Use Atlassian’s end-to-end design language to create simple, intuitive and beautiful experiences.

SkySmart – A booking app

SkySmart – A booking app

Many of us use apps to book flights, and if we don’t use them for the booking itself we often use them to keep track of our tickets and to get relevant updates and offers. In this assignment the goal was to design a mobile app for iPhone that also works on a smartwatch (watchOS). In other words, two apps for the same fictive company, SkySmart.

The main objective was to create an app that worked seamlessly and in tandem og both devices. This was done by following the design thinking process, and considering the content first.


How should the SkySmart-app work?

The mobile app:

  •  Search and find suitable flights
  •  Choose the flight
  • Enter personal details for the flight (name, passport, number, email)
  •  Choose seat on the plane
  •  Pay for flight (enter credit card/payment details)

The smartwatch app:

  • View the flight departure date and time
  • Check the flight number
  • View the flight departure and destination cities
  • See the flight duration
  • Monitor the flight status (on time, delayed, cancelled)
  • Access boarding pass

Even though this was not a case study, I sort of followed the Design thinking process, but the product did not go into high-fidelity wireframes or testing.

Getting started

I had already conducted research on smartwatches previously, and while this research was done with a fitness app in mind – it is not a big leap to apply this research to other areas where the need is similar.

From this research some of the favorite features was mentioned to be:
– Availability and getting notifications without disturbing others.
– Keeping track of goals and activities.

One of my questions about the user (research question) was:
– How and where would the user use the mobile/watch app – in which context?

I based my persona and scenarios on that previous research and what I think is the users goals, needs and frustrations. Research was also a continuous process during this task (literature review, competitor analysis).


Sketches and Low-Fidelity Wireframes

Before starting on sketches and wireframes I looked at other travel apps to see how they had solved certain, issues and to see what the best practices seemed to be.

The main purpose of the mobile app is to allow the user to search for flights, book them and allow for basic travel admin.

The main purpose of the Watch-app is to allow the user to see the most important information about their travel at a glance, to keep track of all their flight details and receive important notifications.

User Flow

The starting point for my customer journey for the SkySmart app is based on a signed-in user opening the app, and starting from the homescreen.

SkySmart User Flow

Low-fidelity Wireframes

The SkySmart app is thought to function on iPhone and WatchOS.

The pages and patterns follow a pretty standard set of rules and guides to provide and easy and fast way to search for flights. It also gives the user a way to manage and find previous and current bookings fast and easy on the go.

Skysmart Low Fidelity app

WatchOS low-fidelity wireframe

The thought when designing this app was that it should give the user information in a easy and fast way. It should tell the user what they want to know at a glance. So it should be fast and easy. Since the screen is so small, there is no easy way to give a lot of information – that is what the phone app is for.

(I know this more of a mid/high-fidelity wireframe, but I got a bit carried away)

SkySmart WatchOS
SkySmart WatchOS

Mid-fidelity Wireframes

Before starting on my mid-fidelity wireframes I went back over my research and also continued my search of other apps to find the most common patterns and how others have solved the usability issues with booking on small screens.

For the mobile app I went for a blue-ish color as the main color in reference to the company name – SkySmart – in addition to Apples recommended system colors for text and background.

For the SmartWatch I used Apple complications and the colorscheme from the Human Interface Guidelines. When going in to High-fidelity one can add SkySmart blue to the app as an accent color. Since this one went straight to mid-fidelity instead of low, I iterated on my design and made some changes and corrections.

Skysmart app medium fidelity wireframe
SkySmart WatchOS medium

More iteration is needed as the SkySmart apps move from mid-fidelity to high-fidelity. And of course the apps should be tested by real users to make sure they function as intended and solve the users needs.

The importance of good UI design

The importance of good UI design

A digital age

These days almost everything happens online. We read our news online, we do much of our shopping online and we meet and interact with many of our friends online. We also do our research online. Buying a new car? search online. Need a new vacuum? search online. Want to go to a restaurant? turn on geolocation and see what’s near you, with reviews. We put our trust in ratings and customer reviews, and in many cases these are what determines what product we buy or where we go out to eat.

Our digital habits means that it is important that businesses have a strong online presence, but just being there is not enough.


Good UI

Visual storytelling is a great way to connect with your audience, and can be achieved with good UI. It helps create a user-friendly interface that can build the customers confidence and reduces confusion. It gives the business an opportunity to answer frequently asked questions, and address their customers’ pain points. Credability can be established with good UI and will more than likely convert users into paying customers and get them to return. Returning customers can become brand advocates as they spread the brands’ message to their other potential customers.


But what does “good UI” mean, exactly?

Good design should be simple and straightforward and it is not only about attractive visuals and elements. UI should in fact be nearly invisible, so that it doesn’t overwhelm the user with too many colors, crazy fonts, animations and other design elements. It should clearly broadcast the right message to the user, and meet both their needs and wants.

Each element in the design should serve a purpose, and most importantly – be consistent. Consistency ensures that the user quicly learn how to interact with your website/product, which in turn increases their confidence and makes their journey towards their goal more effortless and time-consuming.


10 principles of good design

Dieter Rams’ is a German industrial designer and has been involved in design for seven decades. He has recieved many honorary titles through his career, and his 10 principles of good design can be applied to any design.
After all, design is design.


Good design …

.. is Innovative
.. must be Useful (makes a product useful)
.. is Aesthetic
.. makes a product Understandable
.. is Unobtrusive
.. is Honest
.. is Long-lasting
.. is Consistent in every detail/thorough down to the last detail
.. is Environmentally friendly
.. is as Little Design as possible

The difference between UX and UI Design

The difference between UX and UI Design

Ever since I started immersing myself in everything UX, I heard and saw the terms “UX-design” and “UI-design” being used on the same things or talked about in the same sentence. Or so it seemed to me. I found this a bit confusing when I read case studies or searched the web for UX-related content, so I decided to dive a bit deeper to find the similarities and differences between the two.

What’s what?

UX design stands for “User Experience Design” while UI stands for “User Interface Design”. Both are important and work closely toghether – but the roles they play are very different.

User experience design, or UX, is a human-first way of designing products and encompasses all interactions and “aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, it’s services and products” (Don Norman).  In UX, a pain point, a user need or problem is identified and researched, then a rough prototype/wireframe is created and validated/invalidated through testing. Most often the Design Thinking Process is followed, and the steps are: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. The Design Thinking process is iterative and it is common to go back and forth through the steps until the goals are reached.

User Interface Design, or UI, is a human-first approach to designing an aesthetically pleasing product. It can be the visual design of a website for instance and how the users interact with the site. “Visual” is the look and feel of the product and “interaction design” is the way the user interact with the product. Unlike UX, User Interface Design is a strictly digital term, and is the point of interaction between the user and a digital device or product. UI considers the look, feel and interactivity of a product and will think about things like icons, buttons, typograhy, colors, spacing imagry and responsive design (Careerfoundry).

UX makes interfaces useful. UI makes interfaces beautiful.

In terms of a digital product like a website, people go there with a goal in mind and to do stuff. A UX designer might look at the target audience and figure out what’s important to them and what they value. To figure this out, they ask questions, observe users, interview and make prototypes and test to see if they can validate their assumptions about the users and their goals.

Next, a UI designer might look at the personality of the website. The design, use of colors and other interactions. What kind of personality does the website have? Does it allow people to do stuff? How is the content presented and does it draw people in? It’s about positive emotions and making those personal connections and getting people hooked.

“User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are some of the most confused and misused terms in our field. A UI without UX is like a painter slapping paint onto a canvas without thought; while UX without UI is like the frame of a sculpture with no paper mache on it. A great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success” – Rahul Varshney.


While being two very different things, UX and UI also have many things in common. I’ve seen that many take on both roles, or companies advertise UX and UI as a single role. While it is possible (and fun) to work with both UX and UI, I think it is important to keep clear boundaries between the two since they require different skills and methods. Even if you have the skills and knowledge, it can make the design process less focused and switching back and forth between the conceptual phase and implementation can cause us to miss important parts of a design.

UX Designer

✔️ Conducts research
✔️ Identifies needs
✔️ Creates taskflows and prototypes
✔️ Focus on the full experience
      from the user’s first contact to last

UI Designer

✔️ Compose layouts
✔️ Create visuals
✔️ Build mockups
✔️ Focus on creating visual touchpoints
      that allows the user’s to interact with
      a product