From Vision to Reality: The Roadmap to Building an Enterprise Design System

From Vision to Reality: The Roadmap to Building an Enterprise Design System

UI design has come a long way from its humble beginnings. With the ever-expanding universe of applications and websites, the pressure to create UI screens at lightning speed and massive scale is more intense than ever. 

To meet this challenge head-on, large organizations like Apple, IBM, and Microsoft found smart ways to streamline their design work, and one powerful tool in their arsenal is a consistent and reliable design system. 

Today, smaller businesses are also taking up the challenge. Drawing inspiration from Big 5 tech giants, enterprises develop their own design systems to achieve consistency and get a competitive edge on the market. 

Based on a design system case study of our client, a shipping container manufacturer, we will delve deep into the secrets of building a design system for custom enterprise software that elevates user experience and supercharges your team's productivity. 

What is an enterprise design system

An enterprise design system serves as a complete set of standards that bring together reusable components, patterns, and enterprise design guidelines. Its purpose is to enable designers and developers to quickly create any number of applications at scale while keeping the design unified and consistent.  

At its core, a design system acts as a knowledge base that combines a UI kit with comprehensive documentation. It provides components, instructions, examples, and coding best practices, creating a centralized hub for designers and developers alike. 

What does an enterprise design system consist of?

While each enterprise design system is a bit different, there are three fundamental elements that you can find in nearly every design system.

Component libraries

Components can be thought of as the functional building blocks of a design system. They represent the essential elements that make up the user interface, such as buttons, forms, navigation menus, and more. 

Component libraries, also known as design libraries, are the heart and soul of design systems. They are comprehensive collections of predetermined and reusable components that serve as a single-source reference for designers and developers. These libraries provide a wealth of resources for learning about and implementing specific UI elements. 

Pattern libraries 

Patterns are tried-and-true solutions that help users accomplish specific goals. They are reusable combinations of components and templates that provide step-by-step sequences and logical flows needed to achieve common user objectives. 

Pattern libraries are collections of these predefined UI-element groupings or layouts. They serve as a comprehensive resource of content structures, layouts, and templates that designers can refer to in their projects. 

For example, within an IBM Carbon Design pattern library, you'll find various patterns such as forms, dialogs, login screens, notifications, and disclosures. Each pattern presents a set of visual examples and specifications to ensure consistency and guide designers in creating cohesive user experiences. 

Style guides

A style guide is a comprehensive document that provides specific implementation guidelines, visual references, and design principles for creating interfaces or other design deliverables. While enterprise system design guidelines often focus on branding elements like colors, typography, logos, and trademarks, they go beyond that.

For instance, IBM Carbon Design System guidelines not only define the visual aspects but go the extra mile by establishing the IBM tone of voice. They describe it as logical, simple, clear, and intellectually ambitious. This way, IBM sets the stage for consistent and impactful communication.  

More remarkably, the IBM Carbon Design System also provides specific guides on designing for low-vision and color-blind users. It's a testament to IBM’s commitment to the inclusivity and accessibility of their products. 

Benefits of design systems

Design systems offer more than just visual appeal. They provide a wide array of benefits that large and small enterprises can harness from the get-go. 

    • Faster designs. As products scale up, complexity can soar. With a design system in place, you can conquer this challenge without needing an army of designers. Pre-made UI components and elements allow teams to replicate designs at lightning speed while minimizing the risk of inconsistency. 
    • Consistency across products and channels. Design consistency enhances the visual quality of your products and makes them user-friendly. With a design system, you create a unified look and feel across products and channels even when your teams work in isolation. Plus, a design system makes managing major visual rebrands or redesigns a breeze.
    • Freed human resources. With a design system in place, designers can focus on big, exciting problems instead of sweating over how a button should look. Developers benefit too, as they can effortlessly translate designs into code using existing components. As a result, the best brains in your team can dive right into the complex cases that matter most.
    • Top-notch quality. The secret to the high design quality is to set up the enterprise design system as a full-fledged product, with a dedicated team of designers, developers, and a product owner. By treating components as individual products, designers have more time to dive into the details and address all edge cases. This results in a more polished and refined design that delivers exceptional user experiences.
    • Continuous improvement. The design system centralizes decisions, allowing all product teams to use the components and provide valuable feedback. This feedback loop creates a dynamic environment where designs can continuously evolve to match changing business objectives. UI and UX optimization is a vital part of the continuous improvement of your product or website. 
    • Faster training. An enterprise design system goes beyond its functional aspects and serves as a valuable educational tool and reference for junior-level designers and content contributors. With clearly written usage instructions and style guides, it facilitates faster onboarding of new contributors and serves as a helpful reminder for experienced team members. 

How to build an enterprise design system

Building your own design system is a complex but doable task. In this section, we'll walk you through the essential steps to create your very own enterprise design system.  

Understand existing design policies

First, take some time to review and analyze how design is handled in your company. Learn how the designing process looks and what tools are used. It's also a great idea to evaluate the design maturity of your teams. This will help you gauge their level of expertise and readiness for implementing a design system. 

Conduct a UI audit

The primary purpose of a UI audit is to thoroughly examine UI elements already crafted by the design team. It's an integral part of any full-scale IT audit.

First, classify visual components to find inconsistencies. Then, identify the most vital components and analyze the characteristics and functionality of each one. Finally, group the components based on their nature and purpose to pave the way for a well-organized and cohesive design system. 

Define your design language

Design language shapes the way customers experience your product. Your design system shows how to evoke specific emotions through thoughtful design choices. 

The visual design language encompasses color palettes, typography, iconography, and imagery, all working together harmoniously. Define these elements to breathe life into your brand and leave a lasting impression on your customers. 

Enterprise design system

Create a component and pattern library

Create all the parts and pieces —buttons, forms, modals, images, and more. When developing components, aim for reusability and scalability. Modular components don’t have any dependencies and are easy to interchange. Ideally, your components should be easy to combine and adjust for new contexts of use. 

Define the governance rules

Design systems are always evolving, so you need to establish governance rules to manage changes. There are three main governance models: solitary, centralized, and federated. Solitary model is when the design system is led by a single individual. Centralized model involves one team guiding the system's evolution. Federated model empowers several people from multiple teams to take part in the governance of the system. Clear governance rules ensure a smooth and efficient evolution of your design system. 

Define the rules of use

Without clear rules of use, you're left with a mere collection of elements. Create clear and accessible documentation that explains how to use your enterprise design system, how to report issues, and how to maintain it. These guidelines act as a compass, directing the efforts of your teams and streamlining the workflow. 

Challenges of implementing design systems

As with any digital transformation journey, you need to be prepared for the obstacles that may lie ahead. In this section, we'll explore the common challenges that organizations face when implementing design systems. 

Buy-in challenge

Problem. Getting the buy-in for building an enterprise design system can be challenging, and requires strategic moves and a persuasive speech. 

Solution. Identify a real pain point that's impacting the product, users, and business. Then, build a compelling value proposition based on the pain point(s). 

Next, find support from other departments and influential sponsors who will back your design system idea. Having the right advocates to champion your cause helps a lot. 

Finally, always connect your narrative to business metrics and KPIs. Show how the problem incurs costs and how the design system will help mitigate them, completing the full picture for stakeholders. 

Documentation challenge

Problem. One of the biggest challenges in managing an enterprise design system is keeping the documentation up-to-date. It takes a lot of resources and can slow things down. And if you have multiple versions of the design system, like one for developers and another for designers, things get even more complicated. 

Solution. Take a cue from successful design systems like Google's Material Design or Shopify Polaris when it comes to organizing your documentation. Also, you can use automation tools that can simultaneously update both design and code. This way, you’ll ensure that your enterprise system interface design remains consistent and up-to-date. 

Adoption challenge

Problem. A common goal for many organizations is to get everyone on board with the design system. However, achieving that can be quite a challenge. It can be especially tricky for design-driven organizations or those already using different systems and workflows. 

Solution. A good idea is to treat your design system like a product that needs some good marketing and communication. You can get HR involved in the process of change, host webinars and workshops for training, connect with teams one-on-one, and have regular update meetings to keep everyone in the loop. Importantly, don’t forget to make your design system team easily reachable through Slack, email, and other channels. 

A design system UX case study: Conexwest

Conexwest is a company that supplies, produces, and modifies containers for various industries. 

In collaboration with Apiko, Conexwest aimed to enhance work order management, create a centralized data storage system, and automate processes in their production cycle. 

Apiko rose to the challenge and developed Project.IO, a manufacturing system equipped with a project board that, when used together with the mobile app, improved order and efficiency on the factory floor. 

As a key part of the project, Apiko put together a comprehensive UI kit designed for app development and modernization

Apiko design team carefully selected colors, tones, and fonts, resulting in a cohesive and visually pleasing set of icons, buttons, dropdowns, loading tables, and other components. This UI kit became the foundation of the app's user interface, ensuring a smooth and consistent user experience for everyone.

For example, Conexwest application has 4 types of notifications. 

  • Informative. Informative notifications are blue. Our design team chose the blue color, the style of the system since it does not attract much attention. It is needed to convey information without requiring any action. 
  • Success. Notifications for success are green. Green color for most people is the color of something that is successfully completed, ready, passed, etc. This notification is used to report that what the user was doing was successfully completed. 
  • Warning. Warning notifications are yellow. Our team chose yellow, a very contrasting color, which should attract the user's attention but not scare him. This notification informs the user that something went wrong, and he should somehow react to it.
  • Trouble. Trouble notifications are red. Red, the color of danger, means that something has gone wrong. This notification is intended to quickly warn the user that something has gone wrong, and he needs to be warned and take some action to correct the situation. 

In our design system portfolio case study, all design decisions were made considering the positioning of the brand and the functionality of each element. As a result, we created a unified, intuitive, and easy-to-use enterprise system architecture design and modules. 

The future of enterprise design systems

The future of design systems brings advancements in how teams approach UI design, development, and analytics. 

  • AI. AI's potential to change design systems is immense. Designers might be able to select basic components for a screen, while the system will suggest associated components to enhance the experience further. As AI evolves, it could also provide layout suggestions tailored to specific devices and offer patterns based on user research and behavior. 
  • Automation. There is a growing trend of teams that use algorithms to power up their design systems. For example, the algorithmic generation of color palettes and layout systems makes the design process more efficient. Teams may also invest in automation through the use of bots and scripts that synchronize design tokens between code-based sources and design files. 
  • Data analytics. Managers need data analytics to understand how well a system is performing. Automatic analysis of source code provides valuable insights into component usage. This enables managers to set clear goals based on how people use the system and track success with KPIs. As a result, this data-driven approach leads to improved performance and better decision-making. 


Enterprise design systems have emerged as a powerful digital transformation tool that drives consistency, efficiency, and innovation in design and development. 

Whether you are a large organization or a smaller enterprise, a design system can make all the difference. With the right approach, an enterprise design system can truly become the heart and soul of your company's design culture and guide you toward a future where great design and seamless experiences reign supreme. 

If you're ready to seize the opportunities that a well-crafted design system can offer, our team at Apiko is ready to discuss your project.