Adaptive design systems for an evolving product

August 24, 2022

What is a design system?

From IBM’s Carbon, to Google’s Material design, to the Airbnb Design Language System - let’s face it, design systems are taking over the tech scene. Companies are increasingly investing in design systems to create products with stunning and identifiable interfaces. Increasingly, designers are advocating for design systems in their workplaces, and establishing best practices across a whole range of digital products. We previously wrote an article on design systems, which is a must read if you want to find out why it’s so important they are created and used.

Today we’re discussing how to approach a design system for a product that is constantly evolving; new features and functionalities are being added, perhaps your users’ needs have changed over time or your company is having a rebrand. In these instances, we can reframe our approach to creating a design system by considering it a living product, rather than a static document or monolithic system that can’t be touched or changed. We believe it’s important to establish a strong foundation that ensures solidity of the system as it expands, by viewing the design system as a process in itself, not as a final product. So how do we create a robust system that is attuned to new behaviours, new business and new ways of working?

We’ve worked closely with Hall and Partners for 5 years now, designing and developing their product, The Hub. We’ve enjoyed contributing to the evolution and expansion of The Hub, and over the years have spent time iterating on the design system we created. We’ve established 3 core principles that we apply when creating and maintaining a design system: 

  1. Consistency
    Acquiring consistency can be very tricky while working across a large product with many features. Design inconsistency can lead to various issues - different UI patterns responsible for the same action can be confusing to users. Consistency reduces the amount of ways actions are represented, ensuring that users don’t have to learn new representations for each task. 
  2. Security
    It’s important that designers feel confident using your system - one way to encourage this is to ensure that it’s intuitive and easy to use. Are components clearly labelled and signposted? Are the usage rules and guidelines clear? Do designers understand how to use the system? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, it’s possible that your system doesn’t instil your designers with confidence.
  3. Efficiency  
    Your design system doesn't need to reinvent the wheel - or rather, reinvent the primary CTA multiple times. This ties back to the problems that inconsistent systems can create - designers can inadvertently waste time creating patterns or components that have already been designed, unaware of what already exists elsewhere in their product. 

So what do these principles look like in practice? Here are some of our key takeaways from our work:

Define rules and guidelines

Define a clear set of guidelines and usage rules for your system. Consider responsibilities such as who can add things to the system. Who decides what gets added to the system? Who needs access? Having multiple contributors without considerations towards who does what can create confusion - for example, not knowing where one designer has saved a component in the system. Agreeing a clear process when using a cloud design tool such as Figma or Sketch is essential.

To ensure designers feel secure and confident in using your system, it’s important to signpost and label items with a clear naming convention. For example, it can be useful to give colours names rather than labelling them with hex codes, as names are easier to remember than a combination of 6 numbers.

Colour palette screens from an adaptive design system

Conduct a UI/UX audit

Conducting an audit of your design system is a great way to locate any inconsistencies in your system and rectify them. You may find duplicate UI patterns  or inconsistent vocabulary, both of which can create a confusing experience for your end user. It’s also an opportunity to ensure that all UI elements have appropriate interaction states and comply with the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Keep iterating

It takes time to perfect your design system, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches until you find one that works for your team. The system doesn’t have to be a finished product that can never be edited or challenged - your designers’ needs will change over time as your product grows, and the system should change with them. Encourage contributions from your team so that you have a clear understanding of the challenges they face while designing, and consider how your system can provide solutions. 

Make use of design tokens

Design tokens are stylistic UI values such as typography, colour, patterns, shadows, and spacing, which are used across your digital products. They act as the foundational building blocks of your system and define the visual language of your brand. Sometimes these building blocks are given different names, such as atoms in Atomic design methodology. Tokens are efficient in ensuring your system is consistent in all UI patterns, and are easy to update. If you need to tweak a colour token, rather than trawling through many artboards, you can just update the colour value centrally and the amendment applies automatically to all designs for every area of your product. Tokens can also simplify the development process. By giving your developers a library of style attributes, they can use design tokens in code like an npm package and receive design amends without drastically changing the code. 

Typography and spacing screens from a design system


When you have a new design system subscriber, make sure you talk them through how to use the system and what it’s for. Having a formalised onboarding process ensures that you give new subscribers a comprehensive introduction. You may also find that the questions a new subscriber asks provide insights into gaps or inconsistencies, or suggests the system isn’t as easily navigable as it could be. 


Design systems are an exciting product and can provide your team with a lot of value when used properly. We know it can be daunting to create one from scratch or completely overhaul an existing one - but it can be beneficial to get an outside expert opinion involved to get you started! If you have a product that's in need of a design system, feel free to get in touch with us for a chat!

Have an idea you want to discuss? Call us for a free consultation

get in touch

No items found.
Next Up:

More insights:

Get in touch with the team to discuss your idea, project or business.

workshop session for a service design project
service design workshop with Furthermore teamLarge Furthermore logo in white