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DESIGN SYSTEMS
WISE CITIES STARTUP
2023

Building a Design System
      for a Rapidly Growing Startup          

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OVERVIEW
I worked as a design system designer, collaborating with the
co-founder directly to establish a better design system focusing on accessibility and efficient communication between teams.  

Aug 2023 - Jan 2024

6 Months

A team of 2

Me and Kat Close

(design head/co-founder)

Design systems Designer

Design system foundations, components, and documentation

DURATION

TEAM

ROLE

SKILLS

ABOUT THE STARTUP

WISE Cities, LLC. is a startup dedicated to creating accessible technical solutions that solve problems older adults face daily on a personal, community, and city level. 

PROBLEM

The existing design system lacked consistency and accessibility, leading to inconsistent designs and causing delays in the design work schedule.
There were
longer onboarding and handoff sessions due to a non-comprehensive design system, unable to communicate efficiently.

SOLUTION

Establishing an improved design system with strong foundations along with accessibility considerations, refined components, and comprehensive documentation for efficient communication among teams.
FINAL RESULTS

RESULTS

Design system leveled up, for better. 

Before

Basic style guide, instead of standard foundations.

After

A set of established foundations, at par with new industry patterns of design tokens and variables

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No comprehensive documentation for effective communication

Comprehensive documentation including anatomy, variants, usage notes, skeleton and accessibility considerations

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Evolution of the design system

RESULTS

Key impacts and learnings
We as a team of 2, managed to roll out the new design system in just 6 months, keeping pace with the fast-moving startup environment.
6 Months
We managed to build 50+ components along with established foundations and Figma variables/design tokens.
50+ Components
A standard design system made it easier to communicate among teams and made design work faster.
Faster work
LET'S SEE HOW I DID IT.

PROCESS MODEL

I planned my steps to align with the continuous sprint cycles.

12 Bi-Weekly Sprints - 6 Months

First Sprint

 Second sprint

Third Fourth Fifth Sixth Sprint

Initial Research

Setting  Foundations

Building & Documenting Components

Following Sprints

Getting feedback from stakeholders

&

Iterating.....Iterating....Iterating.....

INITIAL RESEARCH

INITIAL RESEARCH

I Audited the existing design system to find areas of improvement

The problems with the existing system included lack of consistency, insufficient variant options for components, and inefficient structure and documentation of components. Lastly, there were no accessibility considerations mentioned.

Inconsistencies

The foundations were missing some of the styles used across app design, which resulted in designs being inconsistent. 

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Colors had no specification of semantic use and accessibility.

The type layout didn't have guidelines for responsive device usage

Inefficiencies

The existing components were inconsistent in terms of foundations and were not optimized by using amazing Figma features like variant properties, instance swap properties, and layer toggles.

All icon buttons were made into separate components rather than having a placeholder for instance swap.

Buttons had no variants for including icons and were not given responsive device breakdown.

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PROBLEM INDENTIFICATION

Inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the design system were the primary communication issues leading to delays and inconsistencies in design work.

POTENTIAL USERS

Student Designers and Developers would be the main users

As a student-led startup at the University of Maryland, most team members can be considered beginners. therefore, we aimed to build a design system that is easily comprehensible for them.

IDENTIFIED CONSTRAINTS

There were a few constraints we had to face before building the new design system

Given that this startup is in its early stages and relies primarily on student volunteers for product development, we encountered various constraints while establishing the design system.

Not having a premium version of figma

Build and document whole design system on one Figma page

Most of the current users of this design system are beginners

Document components in detail and necessary guidance

Necessity to ship it faster 

Include only necessarydetails in the documentation

SETTING FOUNDATIONS
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DESIGN SYSTEM CREATION

We collaborated with developers, ensuring unified naming conventions and component organization that worked for both designers using Figma and developers using Storybook.

COLORS

Colors system with semantic tokens

Considerations for developers: Documented token names and color codes in all format

Considerations for Designers: Tokens with functional names, established variables in                                                                    Figma and a guide for use cases & accessibility

In our color palette, we categorized colors into primary and secondary groups based on their usage. We also created two types of tokens: semantic tokens and component tokens. This thoughtful categorization and token system enhanced the clarity and versatility of our color palette within the design system.

TYPOGRAPHY

Responsive Typography with One Typescale

Considerations for developers: Ease of implementation of responsiveness

Considerations for Designers: Functional names, guide for use cases & accessibility

We organized our typography into functional categories, specifically display, heading, and body text. To simplify our approach, we adopted a single-type scale instead of managing three for different breakpoints, prioritizing ease of implementation. 

OTHER FOUNDATIONS

Icons, Spacing and Grids

For components, we utilized icon placeholders to implement icon swap properties, to cater to various use cases seamlessly. all the icons were made available to swap through an icon library.

 

Our spacing scale incorporated the most frequently used spacings in our existing designs, coded as variables in figma to ensure consistent application across different design elements.

 

Additionally, our device grids were strategically aligned with screen sizes within the responsive spectrum, enhancing the adaptability and coherence of our design system.

BUILDING & DOCUMENTING COMPONENTS

COMPONENTS

Component documentation included anatomy, variants, skeleton, notes and accessibility considerations

Consistency across breakpoints was a top priority for us, ensuring that components remained uniform. Changes in spacing and text sizes were only made when necessary across different sizes.

 

During the component creation process, our focus was on accessibility, simplicity, and maintaining consistency, aligning with specific insights found from our research with elderly users.

Anatomy of the component including different variants and properties

Variants of the component

Skeleton of different default components of different sizes.

Notes for designers and developers

Accessibility considerations along with WCAG reference and supporting materials

IMPACT & LEARNINGS

IMPACT

The improved design system benefitted both designers and developers, positively impacting our product and users

DEVELOPMENT

The improved design system streamlined the developers' workflow, allowing efficient communication with the design team during implementation discussions. As the foundational elements are established now, we could prioritize discussing features rather than delving into low-level UI details such as color values, spacing, small components, interactions, states, etc.

DESIGN

Having a pre-built library of components streamlined the process of creating high-fidelity interfaces, reducing the time required for designing interfaces from days to just a couple of hours.

PRODUCT

The design system enabled rapid prototyping, facilitating the testing of more ideas, quick evaluation of hypotheses, and the creation of additional variations for A/B testing. These benefits could significantly contribute to the success of the product.

USERS

The things improved within the company will eventually help make our users' experience better.

LEARNING AND TAKEAWAYS

I learned the value of collaboration to make the design system actually work

I learned that the most crucial thing while creating a design system is collaboration. Making sure to include both designers' and developers' perspectives, and finding a middle ground to make it easier for both parties is very important.

If the design system doesn't work for their users. then it can cause a lot of conflicts and delays in the design and implementations work.

I discovered that conventional design system practices may not necessarily align with the needs of your team.

I went through a lot of standard design systems to learn the best practices. However, some of those practices still did not work for our team, and I had to find a suitable way to customize the system for our specific needs.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY?

I would have liked to add usage guidelines for foundations and components

Given time constraints, I focused on essential categories for comprehensive documentation. However, with more time, I would prioritize adding usage guidelines, including Dos and Don'ts for each component and foundations. This addition aims to enhance the efficiency of implementing the design system by providing clear guidance on best practices and potential pitfalls.

I would have liked to implement a different typography system that is easier for designers to use for consistency

During the implementation of the typography scale, I initially envisioned having three distinct type scales tailored for three different breakpoints. This approach aimed to provide designers with greater consistency and ease of modification in the implementation when necessary. However, after multiple discussions with developers, the decision was made to implement a single type scale for all three breakpoints. This required designers to assess and adapt sizes while designing.

LET'S CONNECT

Get in touch for opportunities or just to say hi!

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