Solo UI designers, have you created a design system?

over 5 years ago from , Designer

Ensuring UI consistency across teams of designers, multiple products and multiple platforms has given rise to Design Systems being highly sought after in tech companies. This is a good thing, the results show the positive effect that Design Systems have.

However, there are lots of small tech companies with a single product (on a single platform), that have a single UI designer. I'm sure there are many designers in this bucket (I'm one of them) and I'm wondering if you have created a design system? Do you feel like you have the need to create one? Do you just design each feature/page/epic as you go along?

I'm not talking about tooling here (using PS vs Sketch vs Figma vs CSS etc). I'm talking about what your method is in designing new UI, whether it's based off a Design System, based of existing features/pages etc.


  • Account deleted over 5 years ago

    If you're a solo designer, there's little point in making one, especially as they take a bit of time to complete. It should be in your head, but if your company is about to scale, maybe it's a good time to start laying down a 'design system.'

    However the company you're working for has a marketing team that is regularly fucking up how the company presents itself, a styleguide or design system or unified visual alignment bible or whatever you want to call it, might be handy.

    TL:DR Sometimes? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    12 points
    • Julian James, over 5 years ago

      Design systems transcend design. And, even as a solo designer, which I am, if you’re working on huge documents with hundreds of components, styles, flows and pages they have massive value if for no other reason than to stop you repeating yourself and pissing development off :)

      They do take a long time upfront but I’m at a point now where dev can lunch new functionality with very little input from me other than the UX thinking and some lightweight wire frames. I’ve made my money back many times over.

      11 points
      • Account deleted over 5 years ago

        I've made more money from just handing off using invision and sketch, without having to outlay hours building a design system. That's why I said sometimes it's a good idea. I thought I had made it pretty clear it was an ambiguous question with different answers depending on the circumstance. I guess not.

        For example, In the last two months, I have designed from the ground up 4 different websites, 1 desktop app and 2 phone apps. Each was done in around 2 weeks and need to be done in a hurry (like always) It would've been a waste of time to implement a design system for each of these projects and if I had presented one to the clients, their reaction would've ranged from 'That's nice but what is the point of this' to 'you're not getting paid for this.'

        So yeah:

        TL:DR Sometimes? ¯(ツ)

        0 points
    • Ryan Hicks, over 5 years ago

      Completly disagree with you. Julian says exactly what I was planning to say to you.

      Solo or multiples you should have a design system in place. It will help you work better and more efficient. It also leaves your legacy files in place for someone else to come in and take over without feeling lost.

      1 point
  • Jan ZhengJan Zheng, over 5 years ago

    I'm a freelance designer that have spent the last half year working on a startup.

    I've been reusing a lot of my stuff, and I've recently been compiling them into a design & build system, combining SCSS, JS, and Vue components. It's super quick to launch new sites for me. The design system is highly work in progress, but here it is: https://janzheng.com/stylecoeur/index.html

    Part of what makes it valuable for me is I've added it to npm as a package: npmjs.com/package/coeur so every time I update it, add a new feature, etc. I can immediately update all the projects that rely on it

    7 points
    • , over 5 years ago

      Wow, impressive. This is really great it heads down the path that makes sense for me too.

      Carrying over general/conceptual design principles and UI elements over from project to project sounds amazing. Using NPM as a tool for that sounds great too. Thanks so much for your insights!

      Edit: Just on top of that, I've had thoughts about this before, using Github as a potential way of carting design things around. I use Tachyons as a base for each project (especially from a prototyping POV) but having more than just a single CSS library, having your entire workflow follow you around sounds... incredible.

      0 points
      • Jan ZhengJan Zheng, over 5 years ago

        Tachyons is a great base; I've used it for other side projects before but I've long wanted my own toolbox if you know what I mean. And at one point it made sense to recreate the wheel (and the cart, and the horse), but then you know exactly how all those pieces work, and you can make it fit all your needs. And sometimes this means cutting stuff that you don't need.

        Making your own is a great learning process, and highly recommended, once you're bored of Tachyons.

        0 points
  • Denis RojcykDenis Rojcyk, over 5 years ago

    I've worked most of my career as a solo designer in products of various scale. And for the last year or so I've started designing design systems for every project I do.

    First we should define what is a design system. Or more precisely how many components or symbols do you need in order to call the collection of them a design system. In my books, it doesn't matter whether it is a collection of tens or hundreds of symbols or just two.

    Now, Todd Cantley in one of the comments here mentioned that they take a bit of time to complete. Which is 100% true. BUT! The more projects I did, the more I discovered that basically every project shared a very specific set of components. Like buttons, inputs and some very basic typographic styles. If it is an iPhone app then alerts, and modal views. If it is a website then you need a navigation, footer and so on.

    So I figured out, that in order to save some time for myself and at the same time provide more value to my clients I should design systems for every project I do (I have one else for desktop too). And I did it by designing templates, which handles most of the setup phase (90%), and the rest is just visual adjustments for the respective projects. But any template will do.

    So basically every time I start a new project I already have a basic design system set up.

    • It makes designing everything much faster.
    • It is easier to make everything consistent
    • It is easily expandable.
    • It is easier for devs
    • You provide more value to the customer -> You charge more
    5 points
  • Alex HoffmanAlex Hoffman, over 5 years ago

    First question I think you should ask is, why do you think you need one?

    “A design system is not a place to push new frontiers but to gather settled solutions.”

    Trying to create a new UI by starting by creating a design system, IMO, is the wrong way to go about it.. These articles should help you out



    3 points
    • Jan ZhengJan Zheng, over 5 years ago

      yep exactly. I've come to the point where gathering all my loose ends into one central location will help me save time; having too many disparate versions of my core sass, js, and build files was too complicated. Every project brought improvements that never trickled back to earlier projects

      1 point
  • Simone Simone , over 5 years ago

    Let me expand of this.

    "Do you feel the need to create one?"

    · Designing systematically is a good habit of any mature designer. So yes, you'd want to be doing that. That being said, its the propagation behind designing systematically that turns those rules into a formal "design system" as most of us know it. The degree of rules and documentation that you need is highly variable depending on the work you do and how you intend to divulge this information internally (e.g. Zeplin's style guide covers color and type quite well on its own right)

    "Where do you start from?"

    · You'll start from content. Whatever is the most important piece of data your work revolves around, you'll start by designing it and defining rules around that. Then you'll try those rules against other components. If they work great, if not: can you find a single value which works in all (or most) cases? · Once you've gone through this exercise, you'll realized that there's only a limited sets of values that works (note how many design systems are based off a 4px grid? Well, that's not a coincidence!)

    "But they take a long time?"

    · Also this is fairly relative. If you're planning to do a lot of documentation, a living style guide, then yes - that can be a lot of work. If you're planning to have a system driven by your work files, then you're just investing some set up time in favor of facilitating future work.

    The bottom line: you probably don't need a public facing design system (e.g. Salesforce Lightning, Material, etc), but you want your design team and eng to all agree on the basic design rules across your designs (type ramp, , colors, grid and layouts, spacing system). That'll shorten the handoff and QA time and make your life overall much more enjoyable :)

    1 point
  • iterati designiterati design, over 5 years ago

    As a solo designer, I've created a design system and it helped us a lot.

    We defined paddings, margins, colors, sizes, we developed one component instead of 2-3 slightly different ones – it saved a lot of time. We had consistency across the product. We started small and developed it as we went.

    Going forward, I can't see myself working without a design system

    1 point
  • Ankur Anand, almost 5 years ago

    Was writing an article about it and found this thread ... I feel it makes a lot more sense to have an evolving design system to ease your workflow and also get the entire team onboard .. . Have written in detail in this post

    0 points
  • Ste GrainerSte Grainer, over 5 years ago

    A design system can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. For a single designer working on a single platform (or heck, even just a document), it can be as simple as a style guide the colors, iconography, and text styles.

    A good design system is a method of being deliberate about design decisions and documenting them in a way that they can be reused easily. I've created style guides for my last three personal projects, and only one of those projects is shared with other people.

    Here they are in case you're interested:

    And yes, they share a lot of the same basic backbone. That's okay (and intentional). I've also written about design systems, style guides, and pattern libraries and what the differences are.

    0 points