Laying the Found— ations

A book about design systems

— by Andrew Couldwell

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About the book

This is real talk about creating design systems and digital brand guidelines. No jargon, no glossing over the hard realities, and no company hat. Just good advice, experience, and practical tips.

System design is not a scary thing — this book aims to dispel that myth. It covers what design systems are, why they are important, and how to get stakeholder buy-in to create one. It introduces you to a simple model, and two very different approaches to creating a design system. What's unique about this book is its focus on the importance of brand in design systems and creating documentation. It’s a comprehensive, practical guide that’s simple to follow and easy on the eye.

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Reviews

“If you’re a designer, you could read 100 hot takes on Medium OR read this one book filled with practical advice from an industry vet. There's so much valuable stuff in this book that's hard to find anywhere else.”

Nick Stamas, Principal Product Designer

“If you want to learn or improve your skills around design systems, I highly recommend buying this book. I had the pleasure of working with Andrew. The dude is absolutely brilliant and this book is pure gold.

C.M. Kennedy, Designer

“It's thorough and smart, and written in an accessible tone of voice that is both encouraging and lucid.”

Molly Young, New York magazine

“Mind. Blown. Going to go retire in the woods now... Seriously, it's a good read. He recommends a very similar process to what we [Lyft] follow.”

Linzi Berry, Lyft

“Probably the most comprehensive guide on design systems yet. A detailed look at how large organisations use their design systems and how to go about setting up your own.”

Paul Davies, Behavioural Psychologist

“It's awesome! Incredibly thorough, down to earth and doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty.”

Linn Vizard, Designer

“The extremely talented Andrew Couldwell has written the book on design systems. Just buy it.”

Will Cookson, Creative Director

“Anyone interested in design systems should read this. I had the pleasure of working with Andrew and I was blown away by what he brought to the table. He is one of the most insightful individuals I know.”

C.M. Kennedy, Designer

“This book cuts through the noise and hype around designs systems. Andrew really digs in to every part of creating and using a design system in the real world.”

Nick Stamas, Candid

Chapters

Foreword by Meagan Fisher Couldwell

10Introduction

Who is this book for? • The role of development in design • System design is not a scary thing • Systematic design • This book will help you and your team

20What is a Design System?

Why are design systems important? • When do we need design systems?

26Selling a Design System

Find your partners • Laying the foundations • Start small, and adjust your pitch accordingly • At what stage do you sell? • The importance and quality of ‘the sell’ • A word on office politics

42Laying the Foundations

Putting up scaffolding • The importance of brand in system design • Marketing vs. product • Digital Foundations • Mission, values, and principles • Brand identity • Brand tone of voice and copywriting • Formatting • Accessibility and inclusivity • Responsive design • Process • Design systems • How are brand guidelines different to design system documentation? • Make it visible, make it count • Just get it done! • Flaunt it • Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this...

88Design System Model

Speaking the same language • The Foundations Model • Foundations • Components • Patterns • Templates and Pages • Design systems in product design • A case study of a design system at work • Allow for flexibility

116Getting Started

Start by identifying the problems • Where do we go from here? • Be smart about which approach you choose

126An Iterative Approach

Find your team • Interface audits • Colour audits • Code audits • Visual audits • What now? • Managing the workload • The Frankenstein monster effect • Refinement vs. exploration

142A Wholesale Approach

Design exploration • Ground your work in reality • Building a visual language • Build and launch plans • It doesn’t have to be perfect • Wholesale design, and an iterative build and launch • The disruption factor • Rolling out a design system, responsibly

154Systematising the Design

Set the system up for success • You need a design system library • Constraints are not a bad thing • Tools for the job • Naming conventions • Colour system • Guidelines for colour • Limited text styles • Editable components • Cover all states of components • Pattern library • Design tokens and Sass variables • Designer access to code • Tracking and organising system tasks

198Document Everything!

More than a style guide • The basics • Better together • Don’t leave documentation until last • Document as you go • What should you document? • Do’s and don’ts • Colour • Brand identity • Typography • Copywriting • Components • Patterns • Don’t forget the small things • Grid, layout, and spacing • Design tokens • How do you document a design system? • Getting started, the easy way • Living style guides • If not a Google Doc, then what?

244Gallery

Inspirational examples of great documentation

266Maintaining a Design System

Work with shared design assets • Working with patterns • Keep documentation up to date • Keeping the design and code in sync • Code as a design tool • Keep your team in the loop • Guardians, ambassadors, and leaders • Closing thoughts

The author

Andrew Couldwell is a designer who codes, with over 15 years of experience. In recent years he’s led the design and creative direction of digital brands, products, and design systems at Adobe and WeWork, and has worked on projects for the likes of Red Bull and NASA. He’s now a freelance web designer and developer. He’s also the founder and curator of Club of the Waves. Andrew is a British expat, now living and working in Los Angeles, California. He loves what he does, and is excited to share what he’s learned with you in this book.

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