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"Space" Holistic Design System

"Space" Holistic Design System

How to Accelerate Lean Startups with Holistic Design Systems


Incorporating design systems thinking early can accelerate a startup's agility and ability to offer a cohesive user experience, driving growth and success. Here I incorporated a real-world example of a holistic design system we developed that became the guiding framework for diverse areas, including branding, product, marketing, onboarding, and even package design.

Head of Design

Design Systems

Principal Product Designer

The Challenge

The tech startup landscape is characterized by rapid growth and an inherent need for agility. The challenge that startups often grapple with is establishing and maintaining consistency across visual touchpoints, such as branding, product, marketing, and user onboarding, while simultaneously being responsive and adaptable to market changes and customer needs. This inconsistency can impair a startup's user experience, perceived value, and overall team autonomy.

A further complication arises from the often divergent paths of design and engineering within startups. This divide can lead to inefficiencies, lack of coherent vision, and operational roadblocks, significantly hindering the startup's growth and ability to deliver a cohesive product or service as it scales.

Summary of Results

Incorporating design systems thinking early can accelerate a startup's agility and ability to offer a cohesive user experience, instilling confidence and driving growth. The top 5 considerations for startups setting up their design vision are:

  1. Brand as the cornerstone: It sets the tone for all visual touchpoints and should be the foundation of the design system.
  2. Prioritize core components in the design system, focusing on the most frequently used components to form the beginnings of the design system.
  3. For touchpoints beyond the product, deploy an outside-in design approach, establishing larger structures like templates and patterns before diving into finer, more detailed components.
  4. Balance between coherence and overcomplication: Craft a design system that suits your startup's unique needs and allows for flexibility while avoiding unnecessary rigidness or detail that can cost you later on.
  5. Foster healthy habits between design and engineering: Encourage collaboration and consistency through the design system, setting the foundation for the product development process.

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& Insights

Competitive startups can implement lightweight yet holistic design systems across the company to separate themselves from competitors. A cohesive and unified image across all visual touchpoints portrays a competent and well-organized team that instills confidence in new customers and investors alike.

Rapid iteration and refinement of visual components pave the way for startups to test solutions swiftly, confirm assumptions, and pivot as necessary. This process accelerates the journey to identify solutions that resonate with users across all touchpoints, encompassing product, marketing, sales, and even onboarding. A well-crafted design system not only supports the lean startup methodology but also propels it. Below are the top five considerations for startups as they set up their design vision and embed design systems thinking.

The Brand Comes First

Your brand is the bedrock of your startup. It embodies your mission, values, and persona, and sets the stage for all subsequent actions. Your brand should fuel your design vision, fostering a harmonized aesthetic that authentically reflects your unique ethos and strikes a chord with your target audience. All visual touchpoints should spring from this well-defined brand identity.


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Design & Experience

Start with High Frequency Components

While it's important to envision your design across all touchpoints with a broad perspective, startups should adopt an iterative approach that prioritizes essential components. Start by focusing on elements that are frequently used throughout the product and make them the foundation of your product design system. Starting small allows your design to organically evolve alongside your startup, facilitating continuous improvement. Your engineers will thank you.

Utilize an Outside-In Approach Beyond the Product

When it comes to design systems outside the product, startups should adopt an outside-in approach in their design system from the atomic design perspective. This approach mitigates design debt as your startup scales, allowing for larger structures like templates and patterns to be established first, before delving into finer atomic or molecular details. This strategy promotes coherence from the onset, simplifying the integration of complexity over time and ensuring that all design aspects align with your overarching vision. It also provides the necessary freedom to all other facets of the company to be flexible enough to adapt to the market. Your marketing and sales teams will thank you.

Balance Between Cohesion and Overcomplication

As startups, we face a delicate balance between establishing guidelines and maintaining flexibility in our design systems. Too many rigid rules or an excessive focus on minutiae that larger tech corporations often deploy can be misleading and potentially burdensome for teams that need to stay nimble. Craft a design system that not only caters to your specific requirements but also allows for flexibility as your startup grows. Be mindful to avoid an overabundance of rigid design standards, which could restrict your adaptability and inadvertently contribute to your design debt.

Setting Healthy Habits with Engineering

Design systems can act as a conduit between design and engineering teams, promoting improved collaboration. Encourage habits that boost coherence between these teams and increase communication, set universal standards and form the foundation of the company’s operational model for product development. Again, the key is to tackle one component at a time, starting with the most used elements.

In conclusion, embracing design systems thinking from the start significantly enhances a startup's agility and capacity to offer a cohesive and engaging experience. These considerations can guide your design vision and foster a robust design system, ultimately boosting growth and agility. The first impression counts. A well-coordinated design can make the difference between landing or losing that first customer or investor.

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