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Building Scalable Design Systems for Large Organizations

by Marcin Wieclaw
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Scalable Design Systems

Large organizations face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining consistency and efficiency in their design processes. Managing multiple projects, teams, and platforms can quickly become overwhelming without a scalable design system in place. That’s where enterprise-level UX strategies, such as scalable design systems, come into play.

A scalable design system is a comprehensive library of components, patterns, and documentation that ensures cohesion and consistency across all products and channels within an organization. It provides a set of tools and guidelines that designers and developers can use to streamline their work and deliver cohesive user experiences.

Scalable design systems are particularly valuable for large organizations, as they help maintain openness, transparency, and extensive documentation, which are crucial aspects of enterprise-level UX strategies. By implementing a scalable design system, organizations can enhance collaboration, improve efficiency, and scale their design processes effectively.

In this article, we will explore the importance of design systems in large organizations and delve into the life cycle of components within a design system. We will also discuss best practices for establishing hierarchy in a design system, building a scalable design foundation, and embracing change and iteration. Let’s dive in!

The Importance of Design Systems in Large Organizations

In large organizations, design systems play a vital role in establishing consistency and efficiency. They go beyond simple style guides and provide a holistic approach to design, encompassing components, patterns, code components, and documentation. Design systems allow for a consistent look and feel across multiple software products and platforms, making it easier to scale and maintain design standards. They also enable collaboration and communication among different roles within the organization, ensuring that feedback is incorporated to meet the company’s needs.

Design systems in large organizations offer several key benefits:

  • Consistency: Design systems ensure a cohesive user experience by establishing consistent visual and interactive elements across different products and platforms.
  • Efficiency: By providing reusable components, code snippets, and patterns, design systems streamline the design and development process, reducing duplication of effort.
  • Scalability: With a design system in place, large organizations can easily scale their design efforts, expanding their product offerings and maintaining a unified brand identity.

Design systems allow for a consistent look and feel across multiple software products and platforms, making it easier to scale and maintain design standards.

Large organizations often have complex structures and teams with different design needs. Design systems bridge the gap between these teams, enabling collaboration and ensuring that everyone is working towards a shared vision. With a design system, designers and developers can access a single source of truth, ensuring that the latest components and guidelines are readily available.

For example, imagine a large organization with multiple product teams working on different platforms. Without a design system, each team might develop their own styles, patterns, and components, resulting in an inconsistent user experience. On the other hand, with a design system, teams can leverage pre-defined components and styles, ensuring a cohesive and on-brand experience across all products.

Design systems also improve efficiency by reducing the need for repetitive design and development tasks. Instead of reinventing the wheel for each project, designers and developers can leverage existing components and patterns, saving time and effort. This efficiency not only speeds up the design and development process but also improves user satisfaction by maintaining a consistent user experience.

With the increasing complexity of digital products and the fast-paced nature of large organizations, design systems are becoming essential for maintaining consistency, efficiency, and scalability. By implementing a design system, organizations can ensure that their products and platforms align with their brand and business goals while maximizing efficiency and collaboration.

To illustrate the impact of design systems in large organizations, Table 1 examines the benefits and challenges reported by companies that have implemented design systems:

Benefits Challenges
Consistent user experience Resistance to change
Improved collaboration Resource allocation
Efficient design and development process Initial implementation effort
Scalable and maintainable design standards Continuous updates and maintenance

The benefits of design systems in large organizations outweigh the challenges. While implementation and maintenance require effort and resources, the long-term benefits of consistency, efficiency, and scalability make design systems a valuable investment.

The Life Cycle of a Component in a Design System

The life cycle of a component in a design system is a structured process that involves extensive documentation and record-keeping. Design system teams, like the one at ABB, understand the importance of cataloging all components and patterns, documenting their journeys, decisions, and versions. This meticulous documentation serves as a valuable reference for designers, eliminating the need to recreate everything from scratch and allowing them to build upon previous work.

“Design system teams play a crucial role in ensuring the scalability and consistency of a design system. By documenting the life cycle of each component, they enable continuous improvement and facilitate collaboration among designers and developers.” – Emily Johnson, Lead Designer at ABB

By maintaining comprehensive documentation, design system creators and consumers gain a deeper understanding of the thought processes and decisions behind each component. This understanding fosters a culture of continuous improvement, as insights gained from previous iterations inform future enhancements and iterations. Extensive documentation also aids in scalability, as it provides a solid foundation for the growth and expansion of the design system.

Benefits of Component Documentation

Comprehensive documentation of component life cycles within a design system offers several key benefits:

  • Consistency: Documentation ensures that all team members have access to a standardized set of guidelines and specifications, promoting consistency across the organization.
  • Efficiency: Designers can leverage existing components and their documentation, saving time and effort by building upon previously established solutions.
  • Collaboration: Documentation fosters collaboration by providing clear insights into the evolution of components and allowing designers to contribute their expertise to further improve the system.
  • Maintainability: The documented life cycle of a component enables easy maintenance, updates, and bug fixes, ensuring the design system stays up-to-date and functional.

Overall, the life cycle of a component in a design system relies on extensive documentation and is integral to its success. By diligently recording each component’s journey, decisions, and versions, design system teams empower designers and developers to create cohesive and scalable solutions while fostering continuous improvement.

Establishing Hierarchy in a Design System

Setting up a hierarchy in a design system plays a crucial role in ensuring easy organization and efficient navigation. ABB’s design system employs a consistent structure for each component file, incorporating various elements such as cover pages, inventory pages, references, tests, and versions.

The cover page serves as an overview of the component, presenting its name and current stage of development. This allows designers and developers to quickly identify and understand the component’s purpose and progress.

The inventory page showcases a comprehensive range of use cases and potential misalignments related to the component. By providing this in-depth exploration, designers gain a thorough understanding of how the component can be utilized and any potential challenges that may arise.

The design system also incorporates references, best practices, test results, and scope pages to further enhance the component’s documentation and usage. These resources provide designers and developers with valuable insights and guidelines, ensuring consistent implementation and alignment with the overall design system hierarchy.

Component Elements Description
Cover Pages Overview of the component, including name and stage of development
Inventory Pages Comprehensive exploration of use cases and misalignments
References External resources and guidelines for component implementation
Best Practices Recommended approaches and industry standards for component usage
Test Results Evaluation outcomes and performance metrics for the component
Scope Pages Documentation of the component’s purpose and potential applications

Best Practices for Building a Scalable Design Foundation

Building a scalable design foundation requires a strategic approach. To ensure the success of large-scale projects, organizations should follow these best practices:

  1. Designate a Dedicated Physical Space: Creating a dedicated workspace, such as a war room, facilitates team collaboration and knowledge sharing. This central hub allows designers, developers, and stakeholders to come together, fostering open communication and streamlining the design process.
  2. Establish Clear Design Principles: Define a set of design principles that align with the organization’s goals and values. These principles act as a guiding framework, ensuring consistent decision-making across all aspects of the project. With clear design principles in place, teams can work efficiently and autonomously, eliminating the need for constant supervision and gatekeepers.
  3. Create a Shared Design Language: Developing a shared design language through a pattern library is crucial for promoting consistency and reducing design fragmentation. By documenting reusable patterns, components, and guidelines, teams can leverage existing assets and build upon a solid foundation. This shared language fosters collaboration and empowers designers to work cohesively towards a unified user experience.
  4. Emphasize Modularity and Component Naming: To ensure the scalability of the design system, it’s essential to prioritize modularity and follow specific criteria for component naming. By breaking down designs into modular components, teams can easily reuse and remix elements across different projects, promoting consistency and efficiency. Additionally, adopting a standardized naming convention ensures clarity and helps teams locate and implement components effectively.

By adhering to these best practices, organizations can establish a scalable design foundation that supports large-scale projects, enables efficient collaboration, and upholds design principles.

Embracing Change and Iteration in Design Systems

Modern design systems must adapt and evolve to remain effective in the ever-changing landscape of technology and shifting user expectations. As new trends emerge and user needs evolve, design components and guidelines may require adjustments to ensure a seamless user experience. It is vital to avoid being overly conservative and instead prioritize adaptability and flexibility within design systems.

One effective method for validating design decisions and identifying potential issues early on is through user testing and prototyping. By involving users in the design process, designers can gather valuable feedback and insights that can shape the evolution of the design system. User testing provides firsthand validation and enables designers to iterate and improve upon their initial concepts, resulting in a more user-centric design.

By incorporating user feedback and analytics, design systems can continuously evolve and improve. User insights and data-driven decision-making play a crucial role in the iterative process, ensuring that design decisions are backed by empirical evidence rather than assumptions. This approach allows for a more informed and effective design system adaptation.

“Design systems should be built with the expectation that they will need to evolve over time. The key is to strike the right balance between stability and flexibility, ensuring that the design system can adapt to future changes without compromising its core principles.”

To strike this balance, designers should consider incorporating a flexible and modular component architecture within the design system. This approach allows for easy customization and adaptation of components, empowering designers to create unique experiences while maintaining consistency. By defining clear guidelines and standards for component naming and usage, designers can ensure a cohesive and scalable design system.

Ultimately, embracing change and iteration is essential for the long-term success of a design system. By continually seeking user feedback, validating design decisions through user testing, and maintaining a flexible and adaptable infrastructure, design systems can evolve and improve over time. The key is to remain responsive to the evolving needs and expectations of users, ensuring that design systems continue to deliver exceptional user experiences.


Building scalable design systems for large organizations requires careful planning and consideration. By following best practices, such as communicating the benefits of a design system early on, keeping the system simple yet flexible, and enabling smart documentation, organizations can successfully implement and maintain a design system that supports scalability and consistency.

It is important to embrace change and iteration throughout the design process. Incorporating user testing and feedback ensures that the design system meets the evolving needs of the users. By establishing a robust process and involving multidisciplinary ownership, organizations can ensure the long-term success of their design systems.

Design system best practices emphasize the importance of scalability, documentation, and flexibility. Scalability allows the design system to grow and adapt as the organization expands. Documentation plays a crucial role in maintaining consistency and guiding designers and developers in utilizing the design system effectively. Flexibility enables the design system to evolve and accommodate changes in technology and user expectations.


What is a design system?

A design system is a comprehensive library of components, patterns, and documentation that provides consistency and guidelines for all products and channels within an organization.

Why are design systems important for large organizations?

Design systems are important for large organizations because they establish consistency and efficiency across multiple software products and platforms, making it easier to scale and maintain design standards.

What is the life cycle of a component in a design system?

The life cycle of a component in a design system involves extensive documentation and record-keeping, ensuring that designers can build upon previous work and facilitating continuous improvement and scalability.

How do you establish hierarchy in a design system?

Hierarchy in a design system can be established by using a consistent structure for each component file, including cover pages, inventory pages, references, tests, and versions.

What are the best practices for building a scalable design foundation?

Best practices for building a scalable design foundation include designating a dedicated physical space, establishing clear design principles, developing a shared design language, and emphasizing modularity and specific component naming criteria.

How do design systems embrace change and iteration?

Design systems embrace change and iteration by being adaptable to evolving technology and user expectations, incorporating user testing and prototyping to validate design decisions, and continuously improving based on user feedback and analytics.

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