What Do We Value Most About Design Systems?

11-04-19 Katy Bowman

Katy dives into the answers to the 2019 Design Systems Survey open-ended questions and presents the three benefits of design systems that both agency and in-house team respondents value most.

As part of the 2019 Design Systems Survey, we asked three open-ended questions about the value of design systems—one for agency respondents and two for in-house team respondents. We asked these to collect richer data about what users value in a design system.

The responses were both wide-ranging and consistent, with clear answers that emerged about what people valued most.

Agency Responses

Q: If you’ve suggested a design system to a client, what part of building or having a design system do you think most appealed to them?

We received 43 total responses that highlighted a wide variety of different reasons someone might find a design system attractive. Reasons mentioned included cost savings, having a single point of truth, and ease of onboarding.

“Having a single-source of truth for how they can deliver content effectively, and allow users to consume the content consistently. Onboarding of new colleagues with a design system… scalability - an organically growing set of best practices/guidelines.”

By far the most common reason included in the responses, however, was consistency, with 33% of the responses. The top three responses were as follows:

  1. Consistency (14 responses)
  2. Reusability (5 responses)
  3. Efficiency (4 responses)

In-House Team Responses

Q: In your opinion, what were the main drivers behind your organization’s decision to establish a design system?

We received 63 responses from in-house teams. While many of the responses echoed things that had been mentioned by agency respondents, some did not overlap, including the following:

  • The relationship between designers and developers (3 responses)
  • Standardization (3 responses)
  • Maintainability (2 responses).

“We have a large suite of products and want to ensure a consistent brand ‘feel’ across all of them. We also want to help speed the velocity of our teams.”

Once again, the most common theme was consistency, with 54% of the responses. The top three responses were as follows:

  1. Consistency (34 responses)
  2. Development or prototyping speed (13 responses)
  3. Efficiency (7 responses)

Q: Describe the most valuable aspect of having a design system.

Of the 59 people who responded to this question, 39% mentioned consistency in their answer, making it again the most popular response. The top three responses were as follows:

  1. Consistency (23 responses)
  2. Communication (7 responses)
  3. A tie between development or prototyping speed, efficiency, and cost savings (5 responses each)

“Bridging the designer and developer gap by providing consistent tools and components. We want to provide the 80% of components that don’t need to be re-invented (button, input field, etc), so they can focus on the unique needs of the last 20% we can’t provide for their product.”

Several responses to this question were not mentioned in responses to the other two questions, including that design systems equalize designers and developers, they’re easy to update, and they contribute to the creation of standards.

We Value Consistency, Development Speed, and Efficiency in Design Systems

When we bring the results from all three questions together, the three points mentioned most often are consistency, development or prototyping speed, and efficiency.

Consistency was the top response for all three questions—and by a lot. Overall, it was mentioned in 43% of responses to the three questions.

Development or prototyping speed, the second most mentioned point, was mentioned in 13% of responses. While it comes in second overall, it was only in the top three responses for the questions asked of in-house team members.

Efficiency, mentioned in almost 10% of all responses, was also in the top three for all three questions, although in all three cases it was in the third slot.

Even though the three questions are worded differently, all three are essentially trying to answer the same question: what do we value most about design systems? Looking at the results, the answer is clear:

  • We value that design systems create consistency within and across web properties.
  • We value that design systems allow developers to quickly develop or prototype a site or an app.
  • We value that design systems allow our teams to work more efficiently.

These may seem simple enough, but this analysis shows design systems can make a big difference to the people who work with them.

If you are interested in reading all the responses to these questions, take a look at our 2019 Design System Survey Data—Questions 20, 32, and 33.