Design systems have become essential for modern businesses looking to maintain consistency, efficiency, and brand identity across their products and services. But how did we get here? How did design systems evolve from a niche practice into a must-have for every company? And what can we learn from the history of design systems to help us create better ones today? 

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the evolution of design systems, from their humble beginnings to their current status as a cornerstone of modern design. We’ll explore the key milestones and trends that have shaped the field and offer insights and tips for anyone looking to create a design system that truly stands the test of time. So whether you’re a seasoned designer or just starting, get ready to journey from zero to hero in design systems.

The Early Days: Pattern Libraries (the 2000s):

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In the early 2000s, pattern libraries were introduced to share and reuse design elements across an organisation. These libraries were like Lego bricks for designers, offering pre-designed components that could be easily assembled into new interfaces. 

Pattern libraries made the design more efficient, as designers no longer had to recreate commonly used elements from scratch. However, they had limitations – they were inflexible and difficult to maintain over time.

The Rise of Atomic Design (the 2010s):

In the 2010s, Brad Frost introduced atomic design, revolutionising the design industry. Atomic design broke interfaces into smaller, reusable components, like atoms and molecules, that designers could use to build more complex structures. 

This approach gave designers the flexibility to create customisable and scalable interfaces. The atomic design also emphasised the importance of consistency, as every element was built from the same set of components.

From Atomic to Systematic Design (the 2010s):

Sydney buildings

As interfaces grew more complex, designers needed a more comprehensive approach to design. The systematic method emerged in the 2010s as the solution to this problem. Systematic design focuses on the design of entire systems rather than just individual components. 

It considered the relationships between elements, enabling designers to create more cohesive and user-friendly interfaces. The systematic design also brought a more holistic approach to design, ensuring that every aspect of an interface worked together seamlessly.

The Era of Design Systems (the 2010s – Present):

Today, design systems are the norm rather than the exception. Design systems combine all the elements of a brand’s visual identity into a comprehensive system that can be used across all products and services. 

Businesses can create consistent, cohesive, user-friendly, and easily navigable interfaces by using design systems. In addition, design systems provide a central location for all design-related assets, including colours, typography, and imagery, making maintaining a consistent brand identity easier.

Design System Tools and Resources (the 2010s – Present):

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To help designers create and maintain design systems, various tools and resources have emerged in recent years. These tools, such as Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD, offer designers a way to create and manage a comprehensive, easy-to-use and maintained design system. 

In addition, these tools provide a variety of features that make it easier to design, prototype, and collaborate with other designers.

Best Practices for Creating a Design System

Creating a design system is a complex and iterative process, but there are several critical best practices to keep in mind:

  • Define the scope and purpose of the design system. Again, it’s essential to clearly understand what the design system will be used for and who will be using it.
  • Establish guidelines for typography, colours, and other design elements. This ensures consistency across all products and services.
  • Build a scalable system that can grow and evolve. As products and services change, the design system should be able to adapt to those changes.
  • Test the system with real users to ensure usability and effectiveness. In addition, user testing can help identify issues with the design system and provide insights on how to improve it.


Design systems have come a long way since the early days of pattern libraries. They have evolved from simple Lego bricks to complex and comprehensive systems that enable designers to create cohesive and user-friendly interfaces. In addition, by providing a central location for all design-related assets and guidelines, design systems make maintaining a consistent brand identity easier. Design system tools and resources have also emerged to help designers create and manage design systems more efficiently.

When creating a design system, it’s essential to keep in mind the best practices, such as defining the scope and purpose of the system, establishing guidelines, building a scalable system, and testing it with real users. Incorporating the principles of designing earthquake-proof buildings is another crucial consideration. By integrating measures to ensure structural integrity and resilience against seismic events, businesses can create design systems that are not only effective and user-friendly but also capable of withstanding earthquakes and adapting to changes over time.

In conclusion, the evolution of design systems from pattern libraries to comprehensive systems has been a game-changer for the design industry. As businesses prioritise user experience and brand consistency, design systems will continue to play a crucial role in creating cohesive and effective interfaces. By understanding the history and best practices of design systems, businesses can ensure that they stand the test of time and provide a framework for creating outstanding user experiences.