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Design Systems:
Finding your Geist

Design systems have provided a standardized and efficient approach to create consistent user interfaces, but they can sometimes stifle individuality and limit the emotional impact of design. In this article, I explore the concept of adding Geist to your design system — the layer on top of a design system that allows designers to break free from constraints and infuse their work with personality, emotion, and a deeper connection with users.


Over the past few years, I've had thoughts brewing about my role as a designer and the concept of creativity. Let me try to articulate it for you. I've felt that there is a bit of a contradiction in being a visual designer working with digital products where functionality takes precedence over aesthetics. Every pixel on the screen has to serve a specific purpose, otherwise, it's considered unnecessary clutter. Minimalism, purpose, patterns, rules, systems, alignment, consistency!

As I discovered the power of Motion Design, I found what I had been looking for. Through motion, I could convey feelings, a story and personality, while still sticking to the rules of a Design System, as motion allowed for temporary states in between screen. As motion became a staple part of most iconic experiences, it also became part of their design systems, and I was back at systemizing what had just been a free bird.

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Design systems undoubtedly play a crucial role in modern design, providing a standardized and efficient way to create consistent user interfaces. However, with the emergence of generative AI, design systems could potentially become partly automated, enabling designers to focus on higher-level design decisions. While this approach has its merits, it may lead to a lack of creativity and individuality in design.

A though started to form - what if there was another layer to design systems where things weren't static? Where designers can add unique value to the experience and create an emotional connection with users and communicate on a deeper level. By adding personality, through motion design or other expressive components, we craft a memorable experience that is distinctive and memorable.
A Geist.

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This layer would exists on top of or as a section within a design system, influencing and inspire all new design. In contrast to the systematic approach of design systems, this layer is variable, expressive, inspiring, and meant to be a source of inspiration and expansion for designers. It requires thinking outside the box, taking risks, and creating something unique. Crafted UX demands an understanding of the user's needs, mood, and personality to create an experience that resonates.

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A Geist can provide:

Personality: Habitual users are created from UX that makes them feel something. Users sway towards brands that celebrate self-expression and empowerment. They don’t want brands that cater to everyone, they want brands that cater to the individual. Digital products have all gone from just completing tasks and displaying info to actually having personality. We need to create a space for storytelling, bringing an otherwise static experience to life.

An emotional response: The new generation of users want to interact with digital products the same way they interact with other people. It’s no longer enough to create products with good usability - it’s equally important to spark emotional reactions. Emotional design is not just about delight and positive emotion. It acknowledges and caters to users' stress, uncertainty, or fear, offering comfort and understanding. The aim is to connect with users on an emotional level.

User personalization: By allowing the UI to be changeable and generate based on the user, visual personalization holds immense potential. Imagine a scenario where the UI adapts its visual elements automatically to cater to the unique preferences of each user. This level of personalization goes beyond content recommendations or tailored interactions—it extends to the very visual look and feel of the interface itself.

Personalization also plays a vital role in improving usability and accessibility by adjusting font sizes, color contrasts, or interaction methods to accommodate users with visual impairments or motor disabilities.

Furthermore, user personalization contributes to a sense of empowerment and ownership over the digital experience. When users feel that the interface is tailored to them or even created by them, they develop a stronger connection and sense of control.

Variability: To create an iconic product that captivates and retains users, variability is essential. When rewards become predictable or too consistent, users become bored, and the application loses its appeal. By adding small surprises and delightful animations to habitual interactions, we infuse new excitement into the user experience.

‘Everything has a personality:
everything sends an emotional signal.’

Don Norman

In conclusion, while design systems provide a useful foundation for creating user interfaces, they can be limiting in terms of expression and individuality. The Geist is a space within a design system, where designers can add unique value and create an emotional connection with users. By defining and making use of your Geist, designers can create something that is not only functional but also enjoyable to use. It creates a lasting impression and fosters brand loyalty. By creating a memorable experience, designers can differentiate themselves from the competition and stand out in a crowded market.

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