Dragan Babic enables design.

How I came to understand the purpose of UI kits

I honestly couldn’t figure out what they were about. I thought OK, they could be used for inspiration or prototyping, but then I realized that even though most of them came fully styled, people were using them as a starting point for their own designs. This is where it dawned on me: they are a shortcut.

Ever since we started with the practice of creating components within our designs — previously known as style guides, now known as design systems — we would design UIs first, identify patterns, and then create components based on those findings.

It turns out the prevailing practice today is to start with a full blown library of UI elements, and use them to puzzle together a UI. Than all that’s left to do is to restyle those elements so as they don’t appear to originate from said UI kit, and to fit with the existing branding of the product. Job done!

I can see how this process can be preferred for MVPs, teams without designers, or prototypes. But to be honest — speaking as a designer — it’s still completely backwards to me.

I can tell that a lot of designers nowadays are using this approach, because I also think that this practice has much to do with how homogenized the digital product landscape is, visually speaking.

Few things today seem genuine, meaning that designers rarely start fresh these days, and since there’s so much pressure to ship fast, who could blame them?

On the other hand, it really bothers me that aids such as these have had such a huge impact on the industry by demonstrating how one can deliver results on a short notice and deadline. This has somehow become the norm and an expectation with employers and clients, and it’s hard to argue over and over again.

Have UI kits made everyone a designer?

If the ability to design a usable interface using an UI kit constitutes one being a designer, than sure, we’re all designers. But the truth is that even if anyone can take a UI kit and put together an interface, that doesn’t mean it will be a good interface.

Unless you know how to design things from scratch you will be severely limited by the number of elements offered by the UI kit, which is a huge issue as you will be shoehorning content into existing elements just because there’s nothing else to use.

Then it’s things like knowing which UI elements to use for which purpose and in which situation, balancing user needs with business goals, thinking in flows and series of actions and reactions instead of isolated screens, etc. is what separates the professional from the amateur and hobbyist.

The fact of the matter is, the part of the design process that contributes to the overall user experience is what adds value to the product, while the UI itself is a mere product of that process. UI is a much less valuable — and often overestimated — asset than often thought, especially in designer circles.

So no, we’re not all designers. But we can all benefit from the tools that exist in these modern times in order to make the most of what we got to work with, and we need to learn and recognize the proper place, and purpose of said tools.


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Dragan Babic is a design consultant enabling creatively challenged organizations to nurture design, and work with design professionals in productive ways.

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