Why Design Systems Are More Versatile Than Branding Style Guides

The finishing touches of a branding strategy is usually a brand style guide. This is a printed or digital document where all the visual assets of the brand are displayed for anyone who needs them. These are usually used by the marketing team, in-house content creation team or the social media team.

A visual branding style guide though can be limiting for some projects. Actually, some believe that a visual branding guide is limiting for a project for any size. Let me explain why. When a style guide is finished, it’s distributed as either a printed booklet or digital document. It is finite until a new style guide is created with updates and changes.

That is why a design system is more versatile. Technically, a design system grows with the brand instead of setting down the rug and getting dusty. A design system is built in a way which can be updated at any time, this update is then available to everyone who has access to the system.


What is a design system exactly

The best way to understand a design system is to imagine it as a library of assets. Unlike the brand style guide which is a visual index. A design system is almost like a bucket of branded legos with which to build anything for its brand. In this sense, a design system sounds more suited for User Experience design rather than graphic design. But that isn’t necessarily true.

There is one example of a design system which can be used for graphic design. Most high-end online graphics editors like Visme and Canva have integrated Brand Kits for their users. These brand kits are a repository of all their brand assets like fonts, colors, and logos. We can call these brand kits, design systems because when a user creates a graphic on the program, their fonts and colors are automatically included. Their logo is also easily available to simply add on. Users can create branded templates which then also become part of their brand kit. This is a small version of what a design system can be.


Why design systems work so well

There are a few reasons why a design system is more versatile than a standard brand style guide. For once, a design system doesn’t just include a visual asset library. It also includes all the coding documentation to create new digital products for the brand faster.

Let’s say a brand is creating a new landing page or app. The designers and developers will need to use the design system to build it. With a brand style guide, the designer would have to recreate the buttons and colors and fonts to match the ones in the guide. With a design system, the buttons are ready to use. Then the developer, instead of having to write new code for every little thing the designer laid out, can just copy and paste the respective code from the design system. This makes building and creating so much faster than starting from scratch every time.

Another great aspect of a design system is that it technically speaks its very own design language. That means that every piece of content; from the app to the email newsletter to merchandising, all have the same language. It goes further than just remembering to add the logo and the right font; it’s more about where exactly the logo goes in accordance to which shapes, colors, and text. A design system lays down ground rules for any single piece of content for that brand.

The importance of documentation in a design system

A design system makes things easier for designers, developers and content creators to start new projects fast. But it still needs documentation and proper explanation of its parts. A brand style guide has documentation, but as we said before, it’s not updated constantly and mistakes get made easily. A design system is always updated for the latest relevant information. If there is a new button, it gets added in with its relevant code snippets and explanatory documentation.

The team that works on updating the design system also has a system inside the system. They have a set of rules of how to upload new assets, how they are named, what size they are uploaded in, and more details. Having these rules keeps the design system organized and easy to use for everyone who needs it.

A design system’s main purposes are to save time, prevent human error, be scalable and keep a consistent design language across all content. Can a brand style guide do all that?

Over to you

Are you a branding designer or branding strategist? Have you looked into how to create a design system for your next client? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

By Orana Velarde