Today, you can preorder Alla Kholmatova’s Design Systems, a stellar book she’s written about, well, creating design systems. But her book goes far, far beyond pattern libraries and chemistry metaphors: Alla’s book outlines a process not just for creating a design system, but sustaining it over time. If you work on today’s web, I’d strongly recommend reading this insightful, approachable book.
Alla’s article on “The Language of Modular Design” massively influenced how I think about modular design, and not-so-subtly changed some of my responsive design practices, too. So when Alla asked me to write the foreword to her new book…well, I couldn’t have been more honored.
Shared with her permission, here’s my foreword for Design Systems.
If you have a moment, look up the work of artist Emily Garfield. She creates exquisite, intricately detailed maps in watercolor—each of them stunning, and each of them depicting a place that doesn’t exist. Instead of depicting a city’s real, actual landscape, she begins by creating a single, complex pattern—a knotted road or twisty river, or a compact grid of city blocks—and repeating it. Garfield iterates on that pattern, changing it slightly each time, spiraling out until her not-map is finished. As a result, her art has a generative, fractal-like quality: it’s built from patterns, yes, but feels part of a cohesive whole.
In fact, Garfield once said, “I describe my process as growing the drawing.” While reading this wonderful book by Alla Kholmatova—this book that you’re about to read—I thought about that line a lot. Maybe you will, too.
In recent years, web designers have started embracing more modular, pattern-driven design practices. And with good reason: we’re being asked to create compelling experiences for more screens, more devices, more places, more people than ever before. As a result, we’ve started to break our interfaces down into tiny, reusable modules, and begun using those patterns to build products, features, and interfaces more quickly than ever before.
But by themselves, design patterns aren’t enough. They need to live within a larger process, one that ensures these little interface modules feel unified, cohesive, connected. Part of a whole. In other words, they need a design system to thrive—and that’s where Alla’s book comes in.
In these pages, Alla shows us precisely how to create systems to support our digital designs. With clear writing, case studies, and detailed examples, Alla shows us how to establish a common, shared language among our teams, which allows us to more effectively collaborate; she’ll tell stories of how different organizations have created their design systems, and put them into practice; and she’ll discuss different models for evolving these systems over time.
In other words, this isn’t just a book. Alla has drawn a clear, bright map for us, one that outlines a more sustainable model for digital design. And if we walk the paths she’s drawn for us, we’ll learn to grow better design systems—and with them, better designs.
Thanks for reading. Putting my little foreword aside, I’d bet you’ll really enjoy Alla’s Design Systems—which, as luck would have it, you can pre-order right now.
I’m currently available for hire. Here’s some of the work I’ve done. If you’d like to talk to me about your upcoming project, feel free to get in touch.