A few weeks ago, Airbnb published a blog post titled “Building a Visual Language” that made its rounds through the design community. In the article, Karri Saarinen explained the importance of a cohesive design system, a systematic guide to make their design efforts more streamlined across different teams within the organization.

In a nutshell, he showed the design system’s value in four main arguments:

  • There are too few design constraints without one
  • Multiple designers struggle to achieve coherency
  • Software is a continuum and should be treated as such
  • The multitude of platforms offer a multitude of issues.

Furthering his argument, Saarinen explains, “A unified design language shouldn’t be just a set of static rules and individual atoms; it should be an evolving ecosystem.” A very compelling and well thought out argument, but perhaps a lot easier for Airbnb to achieve, than a smaller software company.

So, we asked a few members of our engineering team what they thought about the article..

Mike Mullins senior engineer Building this ecosystem “is hard to do and you have to have an internal champion with a strong opinion on it offering clear direction. Actual use cases are also important; developers love the ability to not have to think to bring in components, they get to focus on making everything work vs styling.”

Shreeganesh Ramanan v.p. engineering “At scale, systems exhibit complexity – becoming hard to enumerate, hard to maintain, hard to communicate about. This is especially visible in systems with few bounds like software. A large software system worked on by a large team over a long period of time will often descend into unmanageable chaos (or at the very least be unpleasant to work on and use).

Visual systems and design in general are the interfaces that software relies upon to interact with the real world. With the increasing consumer demand to provide interfaces that are supported across many devices and operating systems, the designers at Airbnb identify and present several compelling reasons for a design system to provide a uniform, appealing interface that enhances productivity.

Starting with a unified view of the whole system, ensures universal appeal that provides an iconic point of view focused to Airbnb specifically. This allows clear communication. The design system creates a powerful organized template that allows increased productivity for their designers and creates seamless, pleasing experiences.”

In sum, our team of engineers acknowledged the raw benefits of a system to define how the sum of parts fit together to create the whole, and what the guiding principles for that whole should be as components are created. We are eager to develop our own foundational template to reduce communication errors and maximize productivity, particularly as we scale our team quickly and continue to build a long living structure for large teams.

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