What is a Design System? Meaning, Elements, & Benefits

Product Design
What is a Design System? Meaning, Elements, & Benefits
Article by Jelena Relić
Last Updated: February 20, 2024

A design system helps optimize the product development process's adaptability, efficiency, and agility. It helps a product flourish, not just survive possible changes in circumstances.

Design systems link design and development, helping improve communication among the design, marketing, dev teams, and end-users.

Design System Definition

What is a design system? A design system is a visually well-structured compilation of logically consistent reusable elements, such as branding, rules, and style and usage guidelines. It is used to implement and organize an effective design interface and experience.

Design systems enable all product design and creation stakeholders to formulate, develop, and maintain the product’s standardized quality.

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Design System Components

The essential design system components are functional factors derived from design elements put together for the whole process of arriving at a user interface (UI). Selecting the right components in a design system is critical for an effective structure of organizational procedures.

These are the 15 main design system components:


Tabs effectively categorize similar information on the same bar. These organize and make web pages easier to navigate and more readable. Titles should be concise to fit the tabs and enhance their appearance.


Tags label UI information for easy recognition and navigation around similarly categorized items—a single simple tag links to multiple variations of the same product.

Their colors can be customized for even better organization, particularly for larger amounts of content. This also improves user-friendliness.

Radio Buttons

A radio button helps limit user responses by allowing them to choose only one option simultaneously. This reduces the risk of system errors due to information overload or misinterpretation.


A product design would not be complete without buttons, some of the most vital design system components.

Buttons are a means to redirect the user to an intended destination. They help users move through a series of screens and pages. They are also great at making calls-to-action (CTAs) pop. Ideally, a design should have a primary button followed by a secondary and tertiary button, as needed.


Breadcrumbs allow users to navigate a design without getting lost or having to click on the back button several times. They serve as links in a chain, displaying the hierarchy progress from the first level to the next.


Comments are crucial components in design systems. They are tools for feedback, user engagement, and interaction.


Forms are used to complete an action when user responses are required. These are the best ways to gather data. A form can be combined with other design system components, such as radio buttons, CTA buttons, checkboxes, and free text fields.


Dividers may not be visible to end-users. This functionality is a crucial part of the design system to help make the layout look organized without their presence being actively noticeable to the audience.


A grid works similarly to a divider. It organizes visuals and other webpage elements. Also, it functions as a blueprint for further development or possible changes by the designer.


Drawers make various categories and sections on a webpage easier to find. A user does not have to constantly jump from one search results page to another to find relevant items.

Dropdown Menus

The dropdown menu functionality contributes to user-friendliness. It makes finding and selecting items convenient. Plus, it is space-saving and keeps a webpage from looking cluttered. Dropdown menus are advantageous for designers and developers, too, because these enable hassle-free modifications.


You can use banners as a promotional component of the page design or a notification bar. They should be vibrant and clear while remaining as straightforward and minimal as possible.

Progress Indicators

A progress indicator or progress bar lets users know how far they have made into a certain process. It can determine how much time there is left before finishing an article or registering for a new feature through a form.


Tooltips are active design system components attached to other items on the page, like text links, icons, and buttons. They provide an explanation, description, and other details about specific elements, delivering clarity to users.


A toggle bar makes picking between two options or actions trouble-free. Some popular examples are opening and closing a menu and switching between light and dark mode.

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Benefits of Design Systems

A design system impacts your team’s workflow, user experience, and, consequently, your business goals. It also helps shape your overall branding. Here are the advantages you can gain from using design systems:


With a design system laid out, you reduce the chances of running into issues when scaling your products during development and maintenance.

A design system enables you to build more products or add new features to an existing product without the need to expand your team exponentially. Since it centralizes and aligns decisions related to UI and design, it does not require more designers or developers to work on additional projects.

It is the most basic style guide and repository of code and design decisions that your entire team uses. Everyone owns and has permission to manage this framework.

Simple Maintenance

The centralized nature of a design system allows instant implementation of continuous enhancements and fixes. You can update products without worrying about creating errors. This is especially useful for frequent UI changes.

Consistency, Speed, and Productivity

Consistency has a strong impact on user experience and your product image. Increased speed entails greater productivity. It means that people can do more in a shorter time. This drastically affects your company’s bottom line and helps cut costs.

When drafted and put into practice properly, a design system can train your team of design and development experts, align their goals with your organization’s vision, and streamline workflows. Design specialists can also handle and resolve complicated user experience problems minimally.

Code and Design Quality

Design systems ensure you get the highest quality of products. These help guarantee accessibility, customization, and extensive test coverage of every design component for a more optimized user experience.

Knowledge Sharing

A design system is a documentation of methods and tools to build products. It is imparted among the development and design teams. This ensures all policies are clear and understood so that colleagues are consistently aligned in the implementation process.

It is the first touchpoint for all team members involved where quality expectations are set. A properly shared system can significantly shape your team’s successful collaboration. This helps avoid the bus factor or a situation wherein a team member is left out of the loop.

Bridging Product Gaps

Building brand personality involves graphic design and product naming. To get consistent results, you need to create a UI component library in the form of a carefully crafted design system. It should consist of style guidelines and shared principles and philosophy that will be reflected in all your products.

Shared Design Principles and Philosophy

Your design principles link ideas and explain how they can be realized, whereas your design philosophy is the underlying foundation of these ideas.

Principles emphasize the accessibility of a product and focus on delivering a great user experience to all audiences. Philosophy is anchored on the goals you intend to accomplish with a certain product and how to bring in the design principles to achieve these goals. Ultimately, these two concepts go hand-in-hand to create a valuable and rewarding product.

Shared Ownership

A design system connects everyone on the team, giving them a feeling of involvement, accountability, and ownership. It will allow your team members to speak the same design language throughout the product design, development, and improvement processes.

This will encourage them to contribute to the design system, maximizing their skills and specializations. These peer contributions are significant factors for speed enhancement and overall product quality. They can detect and fix bugs before end-users notice. They can also improve features to avoid potential glitches.

Expert Insights on Design Systems

We asked agency experts: "How have design systems benefited your clients in the past?"

Ivan Klyzhenko, CEO of Uitop:

"1. Reduced Bugs and Rework

Real case: Developers at a company were always on their toes because of inconsistencies in design. The design system acted like their friend. Post its implementation, the number of bugs related to UI inconsistencies went down by a whopping 53%

2. Better Collaboration and Communication:

It's like giving everyone the same playbook. Designers, developers, product managers – everyone's on the same page, literally and figuratively.

Real case: A client saw their cross-functional reviews go much smoother with almost 27% fewer meetings. Why? Everyone was now speaking the same "design language"."

Jenny Hamilton, Principal / Brand Design Director, Blossom Creative:

"Design systems are imperative for growing and evolving brands in this fast-paced world we’re working in. I find design systems particularly useful when working with cross-functional teams – for example, a client may use a design agency, a PR agency, and a web agency to fulfill their marketing needs. A great design system provides each team with the same solid foundation to work from and ensures consistency across a brand. This consistency creates a well-rounded visual language so that the brand becomes recognizable to its audience, even through creative differences across campaigns. This simply cannot be achieved without a design system."

Sean Doyce, CXO at Calibrate:

"Design systems ensure consistency and make it easier to iterate on a product (ie new features, enhancements, etc). In having a well thought out designs system, we are able to move quick and efficiently to deliver high quality results for our clients - A structured framework for consistent, user-friendly, and visually cohesive digital experiences.Design Systems consist of foundations, components, and more; ensuring continuity across all products and platforms at an organization"

Benjamin Wild, Director at Enhanced Media Group LTD:

"A design system is a cohesive set of guidelines that harmonizes brand elements, ensuring consistency across all platforms." Benefits of Design Systems for Clients: "Design systems streamline the creative process, enhancing brand consistency and significantly reducing time-to-market for our clients."

Myles Bates, Design Engineer & Founder at Bates Product Design:

"A design system allows several products to use the same components or parts, resulting in less parts and lower tooling costs. When designing a new product, it is possible to think forwards and create a design system when considering what other products might follow.

For example at Bates Product Design, we recently worked with a client to design a custom enclosure for a new handheld device. However, as we knew this was the first of several products to be released, we designed the enclosure in a way that it would be suitable for future products. Now, by simply changing a few internal components and colours, the client has a family of products using the same base components. This had multiple benefits for the client including:

· the second project was quicker to develop as we had already a basis to start from,

· there was considerably less moulding costs for the second product as we used the same base enclosure,

· the products have a similar look and feel making a family of products for existing users,

· the part price was lower as we could order in larger bulk, saving due to the economies of scale."

Conclusion: Why Your Business Needs a Design System

Building and using a design system for streamlined product development procedures ensure that your brand thrives in the long-term.

With reusable and interchangeable design system components, your design and dev teams can scale your projects more quickly. They will be able to evolve and adapt products according to varying user demands.

Efficiency and consistency are the most valuable attributes of design systems. They showcase cohesiveness across all products under your brand name. These traits are essential when reaching through multiple channels and expanding into different platforms.

The absence of a system leads to clutter, chaos, problems, and unwarranted expenditures. Conversely, with a design system in place, you can highlight how neat, unique, flexible, and standardized your high-fidelity products are.

A professional product design agency can also help you with this process, so we advise looking for the right agency to partner with for your project.

We’ll find qualified product design agencies for your project, for free.
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