📝 Penn Graphic Design Week 8 — Design Systems

What is a System?


Definition from Introduction to Systems Thinking” published by Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design.


  1. A representation of a set comprised of interrelated and interdependent parts that form a unified whole and continually interact with each other.
  1. Usually has a goal and involves actor(s) and intent(s).
  1. A combination of tangible and intangible components.
  1. Has open and closed perspectives. An open system interacts with the outside environment, taking input from and releasing output to the environment while maintaining its boundaries. A closed system does not interact with the outside environment; its interactions occur within the boundaries.
  1.  Can be interpreted through multiple scales — immediate, intermediate, and broad. An example of an immediate system would be the components that form an observer’s identity. An intermediate system is a local system that can be found in a local community or a city. A broad system can be a system that is beyond immediate and intermediate systems, such as a state-wide, national, or world-wide system.
  1. Can be viewed through different lenses; such as social, political, and psychological; that provide framework to view a system. Depending on the chosen lens, the observer can interpret the system differently.
  1. Composed of two types of feedback loops — positive and negative. While positive feedback loops increase a tendency in a system, negative feedback loops curb and stabilize those tendencies. For example, birth is a positive feedback loop to Pittsburgh’s population because the more people are born, the more people there are in the future to give birth. However, death acts as a negative feedback loop and stabilizes the population.
  1. Constrained by the boundaries delimited by the observer; subjective representation of reality; critical to set boundaries when discussing a system with others so everyone can be on the same page; entire world cannot be bounded: only parts of the world can be bounded.
  1. Can be used as an analytical or a speculative tool to analyze future processes.

👩‍💻 Visual Design Systems

Design systems are a set of styles, symbols, and parameters of the design that are used consistently and modularly.

Sometimes brands publish their design guidelines publicly.


Design Systems are flexible but controlled.

Design systems need to be visually and conceptually unified, but they also need to be flexible enough to work in a variety of contexts (website, book, commercial on tv, subway advertisement, signage.) They can be very rigid, or more abstract. Let’s look at a few examples that outline a few different ways this can be achieved.

Design Elements that can highlight a system:

  1. Story/concept
  1. Brand elements
  1. Visual language and graphic style
  1. Image treatments
  1. Visual motifs
  1. Typography
  1. Organization
  1. Hierarchy
  1. Format
  1. Production method