Design System Foundations – Design Tokens

What are Design Token Foundations?

Design Tokens are the smallest, indivisible units of a design system, serving as the visual atoms. They represent aesthetic values such as colors, typography, spacing, or shadows, promoting consistency across different platforms and products.

Purpose and History of Design Token Foundations

Design tokens are the smallest, indivisible parts of a design system, representing the fundamental visual attributes of the system. They can define a broad range of elements, including color, typography, spacing, animation properties, and more. These tokens enable a design system to be scalable and maintain consistency across different platforms, from web to native applications.

Design tokens were introduced as a concept to address the problem of maintaining consistency across different platforms and screen sizes in an increasingly complex digital environment. They were born out of a necessity to translate a design system into code effectively, providing a bridge between design and development.

In 2016, Salesforce was one of the first companies to use the term “design tokens” in their Lightning Design System. They described design tokens as visual design atoms, such as colors, fonts, widths, etc., which are used instead of hard-coded values to maintain a scalable and consistent visual system.

Design tokens help to achieve a consistent look and feel across different platforms and applications by creating a single source of truth for design properties, enabling a design at scale approach. They also support automated updates and help to future-proof the design by abstracting it from specific technologies, as tokens can be translated into different formats suitable for various platforms (CSS, Android, iOS, etc.).

The usage of design tokens has become more popular with the evolution of DesignOps, a discipline that focuses on optimizing the design process with standardized practices, tools, and automations.

Design Token Foundations List

  1. Units
  2. Typography
  3. Color
  4. Icons
  5. Elevation
  6. Shape
  7. Grid
  8. Motion

Design System Design Token Foundation Definitions

  1. Units: Measurement system standardizing layout and spacing in design.
  2. Typography: Art and technique of arranging type in design.
  3. Color: Visual attribute affecting aesthetics and user experience.
  4. Icons: Graphical symbols representing functions or content.
  5. Elevation: Z-axis depth creating perceived hierarchy and focus.
  6. Shape: Geometric properties defining an object’s form.
  7. Grid: Framework organizing design elements for alignment and consistency.
  8. Motion: Use of movement and animation in user interfaces.
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