Atomic Design discusses the importance of crafting robust design systems, and introduces a methodology for which to create smart, deliberate interface systems.
Chapter one explains why. Chapter two focuses on the what. Chapter three and four show you how.
1. Design systems
The book will begin by addressing the “why”: why designers should care about thinking about interfaces in a more systematic way. I’ll discuss the history of modular design systems (after all, this type of thinking been around for a long while now), but discuss how the ever-shifting Web landscape is making systematic thinking a necessity.
The first section will also discuss the emerging trends and techniques that encourage more systematic thinking: style tiles, element collages, pattern libraries, UI frameworks, and more. And while I’ll certainly extol the virtues of these techniques, I’ll also bring to light a lot of the shortcomings and frustrations of UI frameworks and pattern libraries. This sets the stage to introduce a more sound, deliberate way of constructing an interface system.
- Our paginated past
- Tearing up the page - The ever-shifting Web landscape and the need for modularity
- What’s old is new again - a history of modular design
- Trends: style tiles, element collages, UI frameworks, pattern libraries, CSS architecture
- Not another redesign
- Advantages of design systems: promote consistency, establish a consistent vocabulary, create more robust deliverables, establish a system that can be modified and extended, future-friendly
- The rise of UI frameworks
- Issues with UI frameworks and pattern libraries
- Setting the stage for the need of a better methodology
2. Atomic Design Methodology
The second chapter will define atomic design. Atomic design is an interface design methodology consisting of five distinct stages working together to create deliberate design systems.
- Set up the chemistry analogy (atoms are the building blocks of matter, those atoms combine to form molecules, etc)
- Definition of atomic design: atoms, molecules, organisms, templates, and pages
- Atoms definition: basic tags and other design elements that can’t be broken down any further.
- Atoms pros: establishes a shared vocabulary, see all interface styles abstracted at a glance, etc
- Atoms challenges: too abstract to be useful, etc
- Molecules definition: a group of atoms joined together to form a relatively simple module. For example, a label, input, and button atom joining together to form a search form molecule.
- Molecule pros: single responsibility principle, assemble rather than deconstruct, testing, etc
- Molecule challenges: Still fairly abstract, out of context, etc
- Organisms definition: groups of molecules (and possibly atoms) joined together to form distinct section of an interface.
- Organism pros: reusable interface components, more concrete than atoms and molecules, encourages portability, etc
- Organism challenges: Still out of context, etc
- Breaking the chemistry analogy to get into the deliverables language
- Templates definition: page-level documents that provide context for these relatively abstract molecules and organisms, and focus on content structure
- Templates pros: focus on content structure, can begin as wireframes and evolve over time, etc
- Templates challenges: still an abstraction. FPO is not real content, etc
- Page definition: specific instances of a template. Replaces content structure with real representative content
- Page pros: Tests the resiliency of the system, test variations in content structure, extremely concrete, it’s what the client naturally ends up focusing on since it’s what
- Page considerations: Clients/colleagues can get distracted by representative content (“I don’t like how I look in that photo”) vs commenting on effectiveness of the design. Atomic design summary: recap atoms, molecules, organisms, templates, and pages Discuss the advantages of atomic design, especially the ability to traverse between abstract and concrete
- Traverse between abstract and concrete. Can simultaneously see things abstracted and step through to see things in context
- Built in hierarchy
- Shared vocabulary - stakeholders can get on board with the concept
- The Part and the Whole - Not a linear process
- What’s in a name? Discussing the importance of naming, and the
- Atomic Design in Practice
- What atomic design isn’t - CSS or JS methodology
- Recap of the the atomic design methodology
3. Tools of the Trade
This chapter will discuss tools and techniques to create atomic design systems. I’ll introduce Pattern Lab, a tool Dave Olsen and I created in order to execute atomic design systems. I’ll explain the gist of using Pattern Lab and its various features, but I want to be cognizant of not focusing too much on this specific tool. While I know it’s an effective tool for me and others, I understand that it might not be a perfect fit for all readers. The book is more about promoting the idea of atomic design rather than any specific tool.
- Style guides, what are they, and the many flavors of
- Front-end style guides
- Pattern Lab, what and how
- Getting started
- Interface inventories
- Pattern library boilerplates, and front-end style guides
4. Process & Workflow
I’ll introduce techniques for design teams to get started with systematic design. One particularly useful technique is conducting an interface inventory. I’ll define what an interface inventory is and how to conduct one. I’ll also reference other tools (like Stlyify.me and Nicole Sullivan’s Typo-O-Matic) that help deconstruct an existing interface into its component parts. I’ll also discuss pattern library tools and resources to help designers kickstart their own design systems.
Everyone’s design process is different, so I’ll also discuss how to introduce and integrate atomic design into cross-disciplinary Web design teams. I’ll also provide practical advice for getting buy-in from colleagues and clients.
- Getting buy-in from clients and colleagues
- What interface inventories are and why they’re effective
- How to conduct an interface inventory
5. Maintaining Design Systems
The book will conclude by recapping why thinking in a more systematic way is becoming increasingly necessary. I’ll talk about the merits of atomic design, and remind people how they can get started. I will leave on a note of “What’s next?” for design systems. Right now, for me the most obvious challenge is to make systematic design the default mode of thinking for designers, agencies, and organizations. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for design systems to help people build for the future.
- Recap why systematic design is so important
- Recap the advantages of atomic design
- Recap how to incorporate this thinking into your workflow