Atomic design is an innovative five-stage interface creation approach. Each stage is focused on achieving more balanced and consistent interface design systems than what today’s software market has to offer.

'The more flexible a UI component is, the more resilient and multipurpose it is in the long run'

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost

The five stages of atomic design include:

  1. Atoms - basic UI building blocks. These can be web forms, input fields, buttons, and other elements that cannot be broken down into smaller parts, hence the name. Every atom has unique properties that define the way it works in a complex user interface system.
  2. Molecules - simple UI components made out of a bunch of atoms working uniformly. For instance, a search bar, an input field, and a button can be joined into an in-depth consistent search form on a website. Assembling atoms into functional groups helps define a UI element’s purpose and boost its overall efficiency.
  3. Organisms - complex UI components consisting of molecules, atoms, or other underlying organisms. These help form separate areas of the interface and can be re-used at will.
  4. Templates - layouts that connect the underlying components to form a basic page content structure. Such templates help visualize the way the components look and work in a certain context instead of overfocusing on the existing details of the given content. Essential component properties are worked through at this stage to facilitate future content changes.
  5. Pages - a full view of the employed templates filled with real content that help to see the resulting interface in action. Pages are also used to test the design system’s efficiency.

Working With The System

Here are a few essential aspects and pro tips you should consider when working on your system design.

#1 Create design systems, not pages

When it comes to atomic design, it is crucial to understand that you are working on design systems instead of separate pages. The sole concept of a “page” was originally introduced to help users better perceive the web environment, and it was prioritized by developers for only so long.

We do not design pages, we design component systems

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost

But if we are looking to create smart interfaces for the convenient management of many interconnected devices, we must stop limiting our UI design outlook to pages as the ultimate result.


#2 Keep it modular

Another essential aspect of the system design is modularity. The modular nature of the system allows us to distribute responsibility for each part of the interface and promote the Single Responsibility Principle (SRP). A crucial task here is to make sure the resulting interface looks and runs equally well across a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, PCs, TVs, gaming consoles, etc.


#3 Keep it agile

The atomic design methodology prioritizes an agile approach, but it is important to define the difference between abstract agility and that coming out of the Agile model. Agile is a flexible software development methodology based on its own usage guidelines and the combination of the powers of SCRUM (a structured project management method) and Lean (an optimized development principle).

As the range of user devices grows, creating static layouts for every other website page becomes impractical. The view of the layouts on powerful designer PCs doesn’t tell us much because it doesn’t show the way the website works across different devices in real life

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost

The Agile philosophy promotes cross-team performance, accelerated time-to-market, frequent results reporting, and segmentation of large agendas into smaller tasks. These principles help achieve the ultimate development flexibility and atomic design efficiency.


#4 Employ UI frameworks

Each UI element requires an individual development approach in order to guarantee its optimal performance and visual aesthetic on any device.

A big advantage of specialized frameworks is that they speed up the development cycle dramatically; Namely, they help developers rapidly turn concepts into prototypes and launch websites. On top of that, frameworks offer templates that were tried and tested in different browsers, allowing you to focus on core tasks instead of wasting time on extra testing.

Keep in mind, however, that frontend frameworks contribute to the issue of faceless UIs in the market. Reusing common components available to everyone, websites go stale and can lead to branding and brand awareness challenges.


#5 Design systems will save the world - create styling guidelines

In order to work with a design system, you need to develop a brand book that would define the unique attributes of your brand.

Brand’s voice remains unchanged from day one, but its tone should adapt to the situation and audience’s mood

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost

A brand book must be supplemented with the styling guidelines - a set of important directions to help avoid chaos in development and organizational aspects. The availability of the styling guidelines promotes consistency and integrity of the user interface. Such guidelines facilitate further product development all around, set the structure and confines for proper product performance, and help avoid all sorts of misunderstandings.


Benefits of Atomic Design

Timely adoption of the interface design system based on the atomic design principles grants the following advantages:

  • Better consistency and integrity of the user experience boost conversion rates, income, and metrics
  • Higher team productivity and faster implementation of new pages and features
  • A unified, insightful work environment improves the collaboration of different specialists
  • Facilitated performance, availability, and cross-browser testing speeds up the project launch and completion
  • A sturdy foundation ensures the efficiency, safety, and profitability of future changes, configurations, and expansions

Developer + designer

Frontend development is the key design aspect in efficiently implementing a UI design system. It is crucial to enable the client’s view and assessment of all workflow stages, not only the end result.

A good design system can never be a templated infrastructure. It consists of iteration cycles that deliver proper results only when there is dynamic communication, constant feedback, and pure will to collaborate

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost  

Another key aspect of a successful atomic project is the integration of frontend development with design from the get-go. Developers must be involved in the whole process at the earliest preliminary stages to help designers make informed UX decisions. Such timely collaboration results in a clean core code to be turned into the final product. It also speeds things up, boosts workflow transparency, and enables designers to see the workflow takeaways in advance.

Final Thoughts

Long-term market success calls for an updated perception of the design process. Rather than putting the heaviest focus on the end product, one should consider a design system as the essential groundwork for high-quality products and pattern libraries.

The creation of style guidelines isn’t an end in itself. A design system is a project that can be endlessly perfected. It is about creating a live, growing product that contributes to the development of other projects as well

– from the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost  

Your design system must be agile, responsive to feedback, and able to evolve along with the products it produces. Well-adjusted developer-user collaboration is yet another prerequisite for efficient design system management.

Lastly, make sure to update and change your design system according to relevant market trends and project tendencies as early on as possible. So keep that in mind, and all the rest will follow.