Does a design system adoption require a complete UI rewrite?

September 14, 2022 by Evgeny Lukianchikov

Title

From our (Astraload team) experience and based on experts opinion – no, a design system introduction doesn’t require the whole UI overhaul. There are several approaches to how to make such an investment start returning profits quicker than usually expected.

Flow

First of all, a design system introduction doesn’t mean that you have to drastically update your webapp UI. You can do a lot of significant improvements like introducing better handoff processes, standardizing components, setting up testing [1] – all this is not noticeable for users at all, yet it substantially raises teamwork efficiency. Which means saving money and creating a competitive edge.

Secondly, according to Nielsen Norman Group [2], users actually like well-known UI which they perceive as “safe”. Take a look at some very popular websites which are quite conservative from the UI perspective: craigslist.org, stackoverflow.com, and even google.com - it seems like their UI has never been changed. That’s only partially true: these companies invest into analyzing user behavior via customer journey management [3] and improving user experience step by step. When introducing a design system, a company can implement subtle but very important changes in webapp UI by building its own UX patterns library that helps users feel more confident in their journey through the webapp.

People

And last but not least, a typical webapp can include multiple business domains or in other words bounded contexts [4], which naturally use different languages for communicating with users. If some updates are introduced in a single business domain, from user perspective they don’t break UI consistency inside other business domains. Which means you can rather safely introduce larger UI updates in independent business domains of your webapp. Some examples of different business domains in well-known webapps are:

  • Gmail: Mail, Calendar, Meet;
  • LinkedIn: social network, Learning portal, Sales navigator;
  • Atlassian: Jira issue tracker, Confluence, Bitbucket.

To sum up, one should not hesitate to start introducing a design system in their web application. There are strategies on how to make such an investment start returning profits quickly without needing to redesign and reimplement the whole web application.