As an entrepreneur, you have lots of communication needs. And as a rule of thumb, this communication should be branded — and should look that way, too. But hiring a designer to put together designed assets every time you need something can get expensive and take time, when you could just do it yourself quickly.
But you’re not a designer you exclaim! Have no fear, with a proper design system for your brand anyone, yourself included, can create great looking designs. All you need is a well-crafted design system — not a simple identity “system” or mere brand guidelines. Let me explain.
If you search for branding inspiration in Pinterest, you will quickly come across tons of moodboard looking identity “systems.” These “systems” will have brand colors or gradients defined, logo typically on top of the page, typefaces the brand uses, maybe some textures, and brand photography styles. This is a great starting point for documenting the brand look and feel, but it is hardly a system.
A system is something that defines “principles or procedures according to which something is done” or a collection of pieces that work together as a mechanism (Google Dictionary). A board depicting individual branding elements is hardly a mechanism or a set of procedures. A good design system for branding has design patterns and components you can take and apply to create designs quickly and effortlessly.
The idea of design system with design patterns and components is familiar from user experience design. This concept is critical for websites and software because while designers often create the design patterns and are involved in developing the components, developers and engineers without design knowledge will be the ones implementing and putting together the final product. The use of patterns and components (i.e. the design system) will ensure the outcome is cohesive, brand aligned, and well-designed.
If you ever used one those identity “systems” mentioned in the beginning, you may have been wondering why your designs never quite end up looking like the ones your designer created. It’s because they gave you pieces of a system — not the entire system — and never showed you how yo use them. Design patterns are all about how to use those pieces. And components are already put together parts of a design you can combine to create a whole.
Think of it this way: your business is a car and your brand is its engine. The engine consists of components that are build with small parts. If someone gave you just a bag of small parts, would you be able to assemble and engine? Unless you were an auto mechanic (in this case a professional designer) you would not. But if someone gives you the pieces with instructions on how to assemble the components and how to put the components together, suddenly you’re able to assemble an engine that keeps the business running.
The key idea is: with a real design system, a person without any design experience can put together brand aligned assets that look good. This is critical if you are a solopreneur and can’t afford or don’t want to hire a designer. Or maybe you hired a VA and want to ensure whatever they create is brand aligned. And even if you hire a designer, with a stellar design system, it is quicker and easier for them to create your branded assets, which allows you to hire a more junior designer — or even a student.
Design pattern is “a general, reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem within a given context” (Wikipedia). The key words here are “general” and “reusable.” Depending on the depth of your offering, you may not need too many patterns. Each of the patterns should be easily reused in a different context.
An example of a design pattern in the brand context would the different typestyles. The typeface is quite often defined, but you should also know which sizes and weights to use for a title, subtitle, body copy, or a caption. How much is there space between the title and body text? Are the titles the same color as the body text? How much is there space between paragraphs of text? What does a large quote look like? You see, just knowing the typeface does not guarantee your designs look consistent.
To ensure quick application of your brand guidelines, you should have patterns defined at for text treatment (typography), the use of colors, textures, graphic elements (illustrations, lines, blocks, etc.), and your logo. Again, the depth of these patterns depends on the offering of your business. If you offer lots of products and services, you may need to define more complex patterns to accommodate for the needs you have around designed materials.
Brand components is where your asset creation get really easy. A component is a reusable module you’ve put together with design patterns. Let’s say you send you customers a lot of flyers via email. These can be coupons or promotions, you name it. A component here could be a combination of an icon or illustration with a line/rule and a headline. You could always just drop this component on the top of your flyer and, voilá, you have a headline element.
So, this component we just described consisted of a title or a headline pattern and two graphic element patterns. This same pattern could be used for other communications where you want to combine title and graphics. Remember, everything we create in patterns and components are reusable.
When multiple components are put together as a finished design, you get a template. Templates are great when you are creating the same asset over and over again. Templates make creating designs super easy. Anyone can use a template. They are also readily available for example on Canva.com. And you can buy lots of design templates for Adobe software or Keynote and PowerPoint, etc.
But when your needs change — and they do change, you need to either change something in the template or need an entirely new design. With a proper design system, you can easily and quickly create whatever designs you need whether you’re a professional or a design newbie.