Interestingly, we’ve been looking at possibilities of theming design systems for some time, and I’ve just happened upon this article by Brad Frost (yes, he who coined the phrase ‘atomic design’).

Design systems should, in almost all cases, be created as atomic, and indeed most of us have been do this for years – we hadn’t named it but still.

Lately at Splendid we’ve been hypothesising about the appropriateness of theming design systems. It’s completely true that we often start from a basic library in order to avoid reinventing wheels,  just when does that become a brand element and at what point does it not come useable for another brand?

A challenge we’ve had from our own organisation and others is “why can’t we just use that design system but brand it for this new brand?”. The answer has been “well we can, but we are still go to have to redesign the system at an atomic level to give to the development teams.”

We have always been pretty restricted by the constraints of CSS, meaning once we change colour, typeface it’s not really looking much different. Just coloured in.  What we really want is th ability to specify behaviour, size, location, colour, font, animation, transition… etc etc etc.

I’m going to work with our development teams to see how much we can move those constraints using this theme-able approach, and see if we can find some instances in which it’ll save us time.

I suspect the answer might be a combination of yes but:

a) it’s time consuming

b) it’s costly

c) it’s constrained still, and therefore only appropriate for a subset of situations

… but let’s see.

Read the article here.