Mastering UI Redesign and Building Effective Design Systems

Published on Friday, January 24, 2020
Last updated Monday, October 30, 2023
4 min read

Maintaining a consistent and intuitive User Interface (UI) can be a challenging task. As products evolve, so do their design elements, often leading to a fragmented user experience. This article aims to guide you through the processes of auditing your existing UI, assembling a dedicated Design System Team, and constructing a robust design system to ensure long-lasting consistency and an improved user experience.

Conducting a Comprehensive UI Inventory

Gathering Design Patterns and UI Components
Start by capturing screenshots of recurring design patterns and UI components across your products. This visual inventory serves as a guide for what needs to be standardized. Simultaneously, analyze the architectural approach of your codebases to understand if your front-end architecture is modular or leans towards specific categories.

Crafting a Color Palette
List all color variables and their occurrences in the UI. This practice will help you understand the color semantics in your existing design, and it's the first step toward crafting a coherent color palette.

Taking Stock of Typography
Using browser development tools, go through your product UIs to inspect all text styles. Note any inconsistencies and create a typographic scale based on the informational importance of different text styles. If you're using CSS preprocessors, make sure to document any variables or mix-ins as well.

Iconography Matters
Identify all icon libraries currently in use and note inconsistencies in both style and meaning. Also, take stock of the different methods of implementing these icons, such as SVGs, icon fonts, or PNGs.

Space and Layout
Document any grid systems in use and take note of common spacing metrics like gutters, margins, and padding. This will help you understand any layout inconsistencies that need to be addressed.

Presenting Your UI Inventory

After the inventory, review your findings to identify inconsistencies and think about their impact quantitatively. For example, how many types of buttons or shades of a particular color are in use? This quantitative insight will help you understand what can be consolidated or reduced.

Redesigning with Design Systems

Key Decisions and Design Principles
Decide whether your design system will be built from scratch or if it will use an existing product as a foundation. Choose the technology stack you'll work with, such as Angular or React, and decide how you'll distribute the design system. Additionally, set measurable goals to track the system's performance and alignment with user experience Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Assembling Your Design System Team
Determine who can assist in resolving the inconsistencies highlighted during the UI inventory phase. These individuals will make up your Design System Team. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, especially concerning ongoing maintenance and governance. Setting realistic milestones for the initial design system's completion is crucial at this stage.

Building the Design System
Your inventories now become the blueprint for your design system. Use them to develop a unified color palette, typographic scale, and icon set. Decide on a grid and spacing system that will serve as the structural backbone of your UI.

Publishing and Ongoing Maintenance
Once the design system is built, the next steps are to educate your team on how to use it and to implement it in an existing product for real-world testing. From there, ongoing maintenance and governance come into play to ensure the system evolves along with your products.

Creating and maintaining a design system is not a one-time effort; it's an ongoing process that requires collaboration, clear decision-making, and a dedicated team. By taking a structured approach to auditing your UI and building a design system, you pave the way for a more consistent, intuitive, and effective user experience. Your future self — and your users — will thank you.

Further Reading