How to create a “Design Language” (and what it really means)

AirBnB has a very distinct design style — via Chris Bicourt, Marketing Consultant, London, UK

Chris Bicourt is a marketing strategist, writer, and designer based in London. RCDCC, where he also studied Interactive Design MA, awarded him a bachelor’s degree in design and communication. He continued his studies at Leeds University. Chris Bicourt’s website is chrisbicourt.com, and he can also be found on Twitter.

Visual communication is hard. It’s endless, diverse, and never-ending. We need to create a set of constraints that will help us communicate with our consumers in a clear and consistent manner. Design Language comes very useful here.

We’ve done it with natural languages before. Syntax, semantics, and morphology help us organise our thoughts and communicate.

Let’s examine Design Language, its formation, and its creators…

Why Is Design Language Vital?

This is a set of guidelines and concepts that help an organization’s visual identity and design consistency.

What goes into Design Language?

Prescriptive Design Language must contain a set of aesthetic and conceptual requirements. A Design Language must have the following components:

Style guides; semantic documentation; a library of UI patterns;
Those three pillars dictate the product’s grid layout and colours.

It must also understand the brand’s voice and values.

Design Language Is Vital

Both internal and external perceptions might establish the need for a consistent visual language.

The former ensures that all teams follow the same standards and procedures. With a set of reference points and coordinates, the design process becomes more efficient and less complicated.

The latter focuses on the product’s users and platform. By following industry standards, companies may create designs that are intuitive and easily identifiable.

Combining these two techniques helps speed up the design process, develop a distinct brand identity, and improve usability.

Anecdotes of Design

(How successful companies justify their need for a Design Language)

IBM’s ‘grid’ system

IBM’s design principles include producing instantly recognisable designs.

“Would you be able to identify us if our logo or name was hidden?”

A distinct visual identity is vital for brand recall and user loyalty. Grid systems are one way IBM achieves this:

The way IBM use a very unique design language — graphic design — via Chris Bicourt

In their own words, “a well-thought-out and meticulous approach” is shown in their use of the grid and regular shapes, angles, and radii.

AirBnB’s aesthetic style

Airbnb’s Design Language aims towards the same purpose, yet the firm has evolved fast in recent years. In order to sustain their brand identity, they are focused on building a visual language.

Colours and fonts used in AirBnB’s brand identity — Chris Bicourt
Design Language used in AirBnB’s UX App and website Design — Chris Bicourt

Innovate on how things are made first, then innovate on what they are. — Airbnb

In addition, Airbnb’s language enables designers and stakeholders communicate more easily across platforms and devices.

Creating a Design Language

Creating a Design Language takes time and work, but it is worthwhile. Here are some essential steps to lay the foundation:

Begin with a UX audit

A UI audit to build your language’s base is frequently a good idea. Solves present difficulties, establishes consistency, and provides documentation, all crucial throughout implementation.

Make a word list

Visual features of a product should be specified explicitly in a vocabulary. Mainly, it’s a style guide and a systematised pattern library of building pieces.

Your style guide should explain the elements’ functions to promote uniformity and clarity. Here’s an example:

“We may convey [purpose] with this [library] design feature.”

This helps corporations to set meaningful boundaries while also allowing designers to make faster decisions. For example, Atlassian defines its colour palettes as follows:

“We use neutrals, white, and blue logically across our product and marketing to guide the eye and highlight the crucial areas,” the designer explains. Warmer secondary palette tones lighten the experience and instil confidence and hope.” Atlassian makes software.

Set up design ideas

The design philosophy of a product is a litmus test for its quality and purpose. It allows a corporation to evaluate a prototype’s general principles.

Airbnb, for example, focuses on usability and accessibility. Their goal is to create “unified, pervasive, iconic, and conversational” designs.

According to IBM’s ideals, designs should be “well thought out, distinctly unified, brilliantly implemented, and favourably advanced.”

Make up your own

An organisation’s design guidelines derive from its ideals. They are required for a designer’s job efficiency and a great user experience.

“Before breaking graphic design rules, you must first learn them.” Otherwise, you’re producing mayhem. Less is usually more.” — Christopher Bicourt

Some of these laws are strict while others are flexible. Having a class with fewer restrictions allows designers to improve their work as they see fit.

Let the language develop and bloom

Having a Design Language is never an aim in itself. Language must develop to reflect changes in the industry and technological debt. Industry conventions change, and so should your Design Language.

“A unified design language is not a set of static rules and isolated atoms.” — Airbnb.

Allow your language to progressively adopt the market’s structure to stay relevant. Demands from users and competitors determine a language’s development potential. Studying and updating client profiles helps your firm better serve consumers and maintain service quality. Understanding the competitive scene helps the organisation build a unique visual identity.

Who creates a design language?

A designer’s job is a Design Language. Instead, it’s the outcome of a team effort including departments and experts from:

Accessibility specialists ensure that the language complies to accessibility criteria; UX writers/content strategists ensure that the language adheres to tone of voice regulations and brand spokesperson parameters.

Front-end developers help with documentation and constructing efficient code; VPs and directors ensure the language aligns with the organization’s goals and brand.

Christopher Bicourt designs a Marketing Logo in London United Kingdom

Creating a comprehensive Design Language may take time. Remember that iterations are necessary.

Ensuring convergent and consistent experiences while saving expenses and creating a high design standard are all benefits of an unified visual language.

Chris Bicourt is a marketing strategist, writer, and designer based in London. He studied Interactive Design at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. He afterwards studied at Leeds University. Visit chrisbicourt.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Long walks in the park, swimming, photography, writing stories and spending time with family. https://creativepool.com/chris-bicourt/

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Chris Bicourt

Chris Bicourt

Long walks in the park, swimming, photography, writing stories and spending time with family. https://creativepool.com/chris-bicourt/

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