If you are reading this, you are probably confused about the differences among the design system, component library, and style guide or want to know which one fits the needs of your organization.
In this article, we will discuss what they are, what they consist of, the similarities and differences, and which one suits your organization based on your needs and goals.
A brand style guide or style guide is a document that describes the design language of a brand. Some style guides are specific to web materials, some are for printed, and others are a combination of both. It typically includes logo usage, color scheme, typography, spacing, icons, tone, grammar, and imagery.
The goal of a style guide is to serve as a reference material for a designer, developer, or anyone who will work on future projects. For example, if a person wants to design a flyer or a social media post and they don’t know what colors they can use, the style guide will have a list of the brand’s primary, and possibly, secondary colors with their CMYK or HEX value.
A style guide typically starts with the brand’s identity or the organizations’ goals, values, how they want to be perceived, the personality they want to communicate, etc. This helps anyone who will work on other future projects to come up with a design decision (not defined in the style guide) that still aligns with the rest of the design.
A UI component library, component library, pattern library, or, sometimes called, UI kit is a single file or folder that contains the components used in a website, software, or application that can be reused by developers.
These components are responsive and can work on multiple platforms and/or devices. Developers simply have to copy the code of these components from the library and combine them to create a page of a website or screen of an app.
Unlike a style guide, since the components are already defined by code, there’s little room for re-interpretation, small alterations, or coding errors by the developers. It can cover only the most basic components (i.e. buttons, headings, fields) but it can also include complex modules (i.e. navigation menu, forms, sliders) and templates (i.e. homepage, service details page, check out page).
A design system is an interconnected platform that stores all the design elements that can be used and reused for creating digital platforms.
It is basically a more extensive and more granular combination of component library and design guide that can be constantly and instantly updated. The key difference between a design system and a component library is the former’s interconnectedness which means that when a designer updates how a specific button looks like, it will also update the code and wherever that code is implemented.
This convenience in designing and updating multiple pages or websites for different platforms or devices is the main reason why organizations adopt a design system. It saves time and resources in developing mobile apps for both iOS and Android or creating hundreds of similar pages for a responsive website while maintaining UI and UX design consistency.
This is made possible by following the “atomic design methodology” wherein the components are broken down into the smallest elements called atoms and those atoms combined make up molecules, then organisms, then templates. By defining the smallest elements, implementing changes means only working on the design and code of a single item that will also reflect everywhere else.
Another advantage of the design system is its collaborative nature. Since it is a platform and not a file, multiple designers can work together at the same time, and developers or other team members can give feedback or ask questions on the same document. This also means that design updates will also reflect in the code exactly as the final output of the designer.
Furthermore, similar to a design guide, design systems also have descriptions and directions on when and how to use specific components so developers or engineers can make sense of their purpose.
All of these design tools are created with the goal of improving efficiency and consistency in the design workflow and outputs. There are advantages and disadvantages to employing each one of these. To help you decide which one you should have, we created this comparison table.
Both the component library and design system are made for creating digital products which means they are not ideal to be translated into physical forms or digital forms that are published on other sites like posters, social media posts, etc.
A style guide, on the other hand, is a very flexible document that can be the basis of everything an organization will produce that requires design and content development. And while it is not immediately usable for developing digital products, it can still be the basis of a component library or a design system.
Similarly, since the component library and design system are specifically created for development, they don’t have guidelines for writers who will have to abide by the brand’s tone and voice.
On the flip side, developers rarely refer to a style guide when coding digital products since a designer defines what’s needed to be translated into code. Meanwhile, a designer can’t directly use or edit the component library since it is in a different format unlike if it’s in a design system but they can refer to a style guide when creating designs for any medium. Both of these are possible with a design system.
While it may seem that a style guide is the easiest to create in terms of requirements, defining a brand’s identity takes a lot of time. However, once it is done, making design decisions for any purpose will be much easier.
Generally, a lot of organizations without a design system start with a component library and then slowly develop it into a design system once they have defined all the possible requirements in the future. Having all the components in a design system will make it easier for the team to implement updates. Updating a component library requires overwriting the available code or replacing the whole file which means the version history will not be stored in the same file. More importantly, the developer needs to find all instances of the edited components and update them one by one.
Updating a style guide can be difficult because it would mean a lot of time will be spent communicating and implementing the changes to the rest of the organization. Style guides are also meant to last for several years before having major updates.
The design system has the advantage when it comes to updates and maintenance because it is like a living organism that goes through growth and change.
A major disadvantage of a style guide is it’s not fully integrated with the design and development process. A person working on a project can simply take a look at it in the beginning and completely forget about it midway through the production.
Since the component library contains the actual materials for the project, it helps in ensuring consistent design implementation and speeding up the development process. The same thing goes for design systems but a major advantage that it offers is its interconnectedness. Designers, developers, other team members, and even external teams can collaborate and stay on the same page throughout the whole process while still allowing them to work on different aspects simultaneously. This increases the efficiency of creating digital products tenfold.
A style guide should be the starting point of a component library and a design system since it defines the brand identity. Ideally, every organization should have one to steer future design decisions in the right direction whether they are online or offline.
If you are pressed for time but want to have a design system, you can start with a component library or a set of UI components and develop it into a design system. Keeping it as a component library might be ideal if you don’t see your organization creating more digital products or expanding your existing ones.
A design system is an ideal investment if your organization will create and maintain multiple platforms, scale existing platforms, or manage multiple brands that utilize the same design. By investing early in a design system, your ROI is guaranteed to increase over time.
If you wish to read more about the benefits of a design system or specific scenarios wherein it will be beneficial, read this article.
Design Blocks is Prototype’s end-to-end design system solution that also includes a testing environment and version management so you can have visibility throughout the whole process. Contact us today to book a free demo.
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