How to Perform a Design System Audit in Simple Steps?
Learn about the importance of design system audit for modern organizations. Follow a step-by-step guide to performing an effective audit.
Written by RamotionOct 10, 202212 min read
Last updated: Aug 22, 2023
The design of products and services in today’s competitive market holds a lot of importance. The more useful and usable a product is, the better its chances of attracting more customers. One key factor in the success of design solutions is the extent to which a design team sticks to the best practices and policies, along with the level of governance. In the last few years, many organizations have started building their own design standards. These standards, guidelines, and policies form a part of the design system. Design systems, however, need constant maintenance.
It is important for designers and developers to review the elements of a design system on a regular basis, and to fill in the gaps whenever necessary. This is where design system audits come into play. Auditing a design system is necessary as it ensures evaluation of the UI components and makes it easy for designers to stay updated with the changing needs of the audience and the advanced market trends. It is crucial for modern design organizations to conduct such occasional reviews and audits to stay ahead of the competition. The importance of a design system audit can be understood by the fact that it is one of the standard practices adopted by any design system agency.
In this article, we introduce the concept of a design system audit, followed by its importance for individual designers as well as design teams. We also discuss the steps involved in conducting a successful design system audit, both in small and big enterprises.
- What is a design system audit?
- Importance of design system audit
- Steps to conduct a design system audit
Design system audits are generally conducted for digital products and services. However, the practice can be modified to work for physical environments as well. Read along as we discuss these important practices for almost all modern organizations.
Defining design system audit
For better performance and continuous updates of a design system, it is critical that all the components of the system, such as the pattern library, UI library, and visual elements are analyzed at regular intervals. This requires a standardized evaluation practice which, in the field of UI/UX design is called a design system audit.
What is a design system audit?
A design system audit is a useful practice where designers evaluate the existing UI components, pattern libraries, and design policies to identify the areas of improvement. It is the first step in revamping an existing design system.
The primary purpose of a design system audit is to carefully go through all the types of UI elements created by the design team. This means that all the components in the libraries are analyzed on an individual basis. These are then grouped based on their nature and functionality. For example, if we look at an atomic design system, all the atoms are gathered and evaluated. These atoms are then categorized depending on the molecules and organisms they form.
This approach makes it easy for designers to look at all the elements, instead of just skimming through the design system. For a design system audit, it is extremely crucial that all the UI elements are given due attention, and nothing goes missing. This can have huge impacts not only on the quality of future designs but the efficiency of the design process and the costs associated with it.
Importance of design system audit
A design audit, when done right, adds great value to the performance of an organization. It is one of the best, and most comprehensive, ways to analyze the resources a design system possesses and the state of the existing elements. With the help of a thorough audit, designers can get a better understanding of the design process in an organization. It is also an effective way to figure out whether a new system is needed, and if that is the case, how can the existing design system be of use.
Why is it important to conduct a design system audit?
A design system is important for the following reasons.
- Evaluating the quality of the design system
- Identifying gaps in the existing system
- Assessing resources available to the design team
- Ensuring consistency in the design elements
- Updating design standards and policies for the organization
There are several benefits of a design system audit, both for the end products and the success of the organization. Some of the most important aspects are discussed below.
1. Evaluating the quality of the design system
As the name indicates, one of the key areas where a design system audit is extremely helpful is in the analysis and evaluation of an existing design system. Whether an organization has a comprehensive design system that is used for all projects or a design system is being built along the way, an audit can really help in assessing its usefulness. If, on the one hand, design systems help in reducing the time spent on a project, then, on the other, an audit makes sure that the design system is itself comprehensive and useful for the teams involved.
2. Identifying gaps in the existing system
One important reason why modern organizations, both big and small, need a design system audit is the identification of gaps and shortcomings in the existing system. This practice is similar to gap analysis in content strategy where different components of the system are evaluated with the goals of the organization in mind. UI/UX designers can gather powerful insights from such an analysis. A design audit gives a different perspective where the users of the system now look at it in a critical manner, thus helping them in the long run.
3. Assessing resources available to the design team
Designers often have concerns about the availability of resources in the completion of projects. At times they do not have access to a design tool and at others, the time or budget is not enough to create the best design. This is where a design system audit can be of great help. Since a design system covers all aspects, from policies to UI elements, an audit of the resources is very much under its purview. Such an analysis helps in analyzing the existing resources which are then important in creating realistic goals for future projects.
4. Ensuring consistency in the design elements
Good design has a lot to do with maintaining consistency. A good system heavily relies on basic design principles, including those of simplicity, consistency, aesthetics, and accessibility. An audit of the system takes a closer look at all the existing UI elements and design patterns in light of the design principles. This helps in keeping the system updated and to rectify any design errors that may have been ignored when creating the initial elements. Therefore, a design system audit has a direct impact on the creation of products and services in the long run.
5. Updating design standards and policies for the organization
The field of UI/UX design is always advancing. It is critical for modern organizations to always be aware of new design practices, so the most relevant and useful ones can be made a part of the internal design process. A design system audit creates this opportunity where designers can learn from the market trends, research, and competitors. This knowledge then helps in refining the existing design standards and policies. Since governance is an important part of a design system, an audit involves going over the existing policies and evaluating their efficacy. The end result consists of updated and thorough policies for the design teams in the organization.
Steps to conduct a design system audit
Now that we know what a design system audit is and how it can be beneficial to the overall design process in an organization, let us talk about the steps involved in a design audit. Similar to a UX audit, the steps in a design audit can be modified based on the nature of the organization and the existing state of the system.
What are the steps involved in a design system audit?
To conduct a design system audit, follow the steps below.
- Create clear goals for the audit
- Analyze your resources
- Conduct a design inventory
- Categorize all UI elements
- Identify redundant and missing components
- Analyze the visual and typographic elements
- Perform an accessibility analysis
- Consider the branding guidelines
- Create a roadmap for the future
- Present your findings
The steps below will help you to conduct a comprehensive design audit, ensuring that you make the most out of this practice.
1. Create clear goals for the audit
Planning is a crucial part of any process as comprehensive as a design audit. Before analyzing any UI elements, it is important to have a clear idea of the aims and objectives of the design audit. The first step in a design audit, therefore, is to set clear and realistic goals. The best way to approach this step is to think in terms of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based) goals. Clarification of goals helps in conducting an effective design audit and also increases collaboration by bringing all the designers on the same page.
2. Analyze your resources
The second step in the planning phase is to take a closer look at your resources. This helps in managing expectations from the design audit and different teams involved in the process. The analysis of resources can be really broad. From a comprehensive understanding of the time available for the design audit to the budget and human resources, it is important to gather as much information as possible. This has a direct impact on the quality and thoroughness of a design audit.
3. Conduct a design inventory
Design inventory is, arguably, the most time-consuming and the most important step of any design system audit. It is in this step that designers gather every single UI element that makes up the design system. Every aspect of the system, including design policies, pattern library, component library, and branding guidelines are documented. This can be done in various ways. One widely-used practice is to collect screenshots of all the design elements and keep them in a shared space. A design inventory makes sure that every element is in a single place, thus making the design audit smooth and effective.
4. Categorize all UI elements
After conducting a design inventory, the next step is to categorize all the elements based on their nature and functionality. For example, all the buttons are grouped together in a single category, all the landing pages get their own group, and so on. This step can vary from organization to organization, and from one design system to the other. The main goal here is to group elements together for a good overview of the design system. This categorization also helps in identifying duplication, redundancy, and missing elements.
5. Identify redundant and missing components
The categorization of UI elements, naturally, leads to the identification of duplicate and missing content. Once all the design elements are gathered in a single shared space, it becomes easier for designers to see the elements that appear more than once or the elements that are not there. For example, there can be some unique instances where contact forms are not included in a design system. Such areas, once identified, can be rectified.
6. Analyze the visual and typographic elements
Visual elements, such as the use of images, need special attention in a design audit. Therefore, a visual audit forms a part of the design system audit. The choice of visuals and color palette are analyzed to ensure that the designs created at the end are aesthetically pleasing and consistent. Similarly, typography, such as the use of the right fonts, is also essential for a design system to be comprehensive and effective. The consistency of font families, colors, and templates for using fonts in the right way are essential aspects of a design audit.
7. Perform an accessibility analysis
One area that often gets overlooked is the accessibility of a design system. When conducting a design audit, it is important to see how accessibility standards are incorporated into the policies – and whether these are incorporated at all. Small design choices, such as color contrast, font selection, and the use of media, can be crucial in determining the usefulness and usability of any project. This is where web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) can come in handy. When conducting an audit, it is important to give due attention to accessibility, so that the designs created can be used effectively by a wide range of audiences.
8. Consider the branding guidelines
Branding is something that cannot be ignored when it comes to the design of products and services. Most organizations have their brand guidelines incorporated into their style guides, ensuring consistency in the use of logos, fonts, colors, and brand names. When conducting an audit, it is important that the design elements are analyzed in light of these guidelines. This step can be conducted separately or designers can incorporate branding guidelines at each step of the design audit process. The primary goal is to ensure that the brand identity does not get lost in the design system.
9. Create a roadmap for the future
The end goal of a design system audit is to create a plan for the future. Whether a design system needs to be updated by creating new elements or an entirely new system must replace the existing system, this decision should be reached at the end of a successful design audit. A useful roadmap is one that understands the limitations, and needs of the design teams, and creates a realistic timeline for the goals to be achieved.
10. Present your findings
When design teams have completed a design audit, it is important to convey the findings to the stakeholders. These may include individuals from other departments – such as content creation, marketing, and development – and executives of the organization. Since all the audience groups are not from UI/UX, they may not be familiar with the design language. Therefore, the findings should be presented in a simple and understandable manner, making sure that the audience is clear on the next steps.
A design system audit is one of the most important practices for modern organizations. It not only helps in analyzing the existing design elements and policies but also paves way for improvement in the system or creating a new one altogether. An audit is a comprehensive and time-consuming process that requires dedication, expertise, and clarity of goals. Additionally, in today’s world of cloud computing, security and privacy practices are also becoming increasingly important. Therefore, UI/UX professionals must always evaluate a design system at regular intervals.
The practice of design system audit is particularly crucial for big corporations where a number of projects are going on at the same time and the design teams are quite big. Such an audit provides an opportunity to analyze different aspects of the design process, and ensure that all the designers are on the same page with respect to the policies of the organization. It will not be wrong to say that organizations working on the design of digital products and services cannot stay competitive in today’s market unless they evaluate and improve their design systems regularly. This is why a design system audit is an important technique to learn for all UX professionals and aspiring designers.