Produced by Haallas, Parempaa bittiä (‘Better bits’) is a podcast that examines design, digital service design, and UX design from different perspectives. The podcast itself is in Finnish, but the episode highlights are translated into English and available in a blog format.
The guest in the fourth episode of the Parempaa bittiä podcast is Juho Pekkala, Senior Software Developer at Haallas. Originally from Lapland, Juho has descended to the latitudes of Oulu and settled down there. He has worked in the field for over a decade and calls himself a creative hybrid software developer. He describes his job as including all kinds of things, from design to drawing and coding.
He talks with Matti Linna, Head of Design at Haallas, about how designers and developers can act together as an efficient team, creating special value in an IT project environment. How can a design system help an agile team in producing high-quality solutions? And can a design system limit creativity?
The best time for creating a design system is now
A design system is a relatively new concept in the ICT field. It is a tool for creating unified client experiences with less effort. The operating system intended for creating a common design language consists of a collection of information, instructions, and standards, which various employees can utilise.
A design system focuses on developing a unified user experience and implementing one should be included in the early stages of the project.
‘It is like they say: what is the best time to plant a tree? Yesterday, and the second-best time is today.’ The benefits of a design system are emphasised in the long run, more as the organisation grows, Juho says.
More cooks make a better cake
The planning of a design system requires cooperation between complicated interactions and an understanding of how a change in one component may affect the overall solution. The process is also affected by whether you are working on a new project or whether the design system is retroactively introduced to a process which has already been developed for a long time.
‘In the latter case, you need to work through reverse engineering: take the project apart into as small components as possible, combining and unifying them back into a complete project. Of course, introducing the design system way of thinking into a new project is easier, as the overall view is already unified,’ Juho explains.
The various designers and developers must be able to work together for a common goal. It is also important to ensure that the experiments and actually doing things take place in a shared environment. Documenting the process may also be useful for future projects.
‘Designing the entire system, rather than individual parts of it, is important. I like the cake analogy: the project is built one layer at a time. Just like a good cake, a good project consists of the correct ingredients and pieces in the correct order,’ Juho notes.
Design systems can be complex, and although the production can be compared to baking a cake, design systems do not come with a recipe. However, there are tools for managing the project, one of the most important tools being communication between people.
‘A team must create shared conventions, and in this case, the design system could function as a shared language between software developers and designers. It is good if the general guidelines are predefined, so that the team can focus on creating the changing functions within the framework,’ Juho says.
Focus on agility
Does the design system limit the size of the project? Are there situations where it should not be invested in?
‘It is not necessary in all situations, for example in products where the visibility of the brand or business is not required,’ Juho says.
He does not recommend reinventing the wheel every time. In such cases, an existing component library could be used, as it will allow giving the project your unique feel even with a light editing. One of the easiest means of using a design system, whose benefits Juho has tangibly felt in his work, is compiling a component library and instructions in Storybook, for example.
‘When you need to do one little thing, like create a new page, you can simply go to the instructions in Storybook to check the model and styles required.’
The opportunities - and limitations - of a design system
Thinking in terms of a design system allows the service to be scaled up or down to future needs more agilely. Polished components can be constructed based on documented usages, allowing the overall image to create itself.
‘Simple UX and UI assignments can then be distributed directly to the developers without a constant input from the designers. These are little things, but with enough little things skipped, the process becomes significantly quicker and added value is created for the project environment,’ Juho says.
A developed design system allows the team to focus on the content and constructing new things, as the UI design, for example, does not need to be done again every time.
Juho does not agree that a developed design system would limit creativity - quite the contrary: he feels that strict standards test creativity and present a welcome challenge.
‘The whole point of using a design system is to enable new things and create added business value, as repeated details don’t need to be focused on constantly,’ Juho points out.
Limitations are also necessary, and particularly in web and mobile interfaces the brand must be visible. When giants like Microsoft and IBM order software produced on their platforms, the end result must always be made within their framework.
Face the future through system thinking
When looking back on his career, Juho wishes that he knew about design systems sooner. He has learnt on the job, and through the challenges presented by the fast-paced growth of digitalisation in recent years. In the future it seems that complexity will continue to increase, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of solutions the field will introduce. Juho put his trust in the power of design systems.
‘I’d like to see design systems standardised even further and be considered in even more solutions,’ he says.
‘From the perspective of a consultant, I would love for new projects to include some kind of a design system from the beginning, as it would allow faster understanding of the context and being immersed in the project.’
Haallas can be found on social media channels with the name @haallasfinland.
Juho Pekkala works as a Senior Software Developer at Haallas. He has more than ten years of experience working in this field. He has a solid foundation in full stack development, although his strongest expertise is in front end, design, and usability. Juho has experience also in distributed systems and cloud solutions. Juho could be called a multi-skilled and creative software developer. His thesis dealt with the development of a design system.
The podcast is hosted by Haallas' Head of Design Matti Linna. Matti has more than ten years of experience in UX design and service design in various industries in the public and private sectors. At the heart of Matti's design thinking are insights gained through in-depth user and customer understanding that can be used to create useful, functional, and easy-to-use digital services. In his free time, Matti can be met at the Crossfit Hall or on the mountain bike trail.