Design System: primitive and semantic tokens

Design System: primitive and semantic tokens

Design System: primitive and semantic tokens

When you're creating a design system, the first thing you'll want to think about is scalability. This means making sure that your system can grow smoothly while still staying manageable. That's where design tokens come in—they were specifically developed to help with scalability.

When you're creating a design system, the first thing you'll want to think about is scalability. This means making sure that your system can grow smoothly while still staying manageable. That's where design tokens come in—they were specifically developed to help with scalability.

When you're creating a design system, the first thing you'll want to think about is scalability. This means making sure that your system can grow smoothly while still staying manageable. That's where design tokens come in—they were specifically developed to help with scalability.

Riccardo Marconato

Sep 12, 2023

Design System

Riccardo Marconato

Sep 12, 2023

Design System

Riccardo Marconato

Sep 12, 2023

Design System

Design tokens are key parts of a design system.

Managing a Design System without even basic Design Tokens is nearly impossible. Without them, you'd constantly need to make decisions, and within a team or company, these would frequently be changed and overwritten by others.

A Design Token is a standard decision everyone can rely on. For example, the Design Token "Red" might store a value like #EE4B2B, which is different from #FF0000 even though they're both red. The idea is that with the Design Token "Red," we all know it refers to #EE4B2B, and if it's changed to another shade of red in the future, everything labeled with the Design Token "Red" will automatically update. This keeps the work consistent and coherent, allowing for theming and scalability.

A good definition of Design Tokens:

Design tokens are named entities that store raw, indivisible design values like colors or sizes. They are the fundamental components of a design system. Stored in a technology-agnostic format, they can be adapted for use on any platform, replacing hard-coded values.

Primitive Tokens / Foundational Tokens

Primitive tokens are foundational elements within a design system. They serve as the fundamental building blocks, encapsulating core design values such as colors, typography, spacing, and more.

By using primitive tokens, designers and developers ensure that the same visual characteristics are consistently applied throughout the entire product, across various platforms and devices. This not only streamlines the design and development process but also facilitates easy updates and maintenance, ultimately resulting in a cohesive and harmonious user experience.

Semantic Tokens

Semantic tokens are an integral part of a design system, complementing the primitive tokens. While primitive tokens handle the foundational design elements, semantic tokens add a layer of meaning and context to these elements. They encompass design values with semantic significance, like primary buttons, secondary buttons, card backgrounds, and more.

Unlike primitive tokens, semantic tokens aren't just about colors and dimensions; they carry the purpose and role of specific design elements. They define how these elements should look and behave in different contexts within your product.

The significance of semantic tokens lies in their ability to communicate design intent effectively. They ensure that everyone working with the design system understands the specific use cases and meaning behind each token, promoting consistency and clarity in design decisions.

By incorporating semantic tokens, designers and developers can streamline collaboration and maintain a shared understanding of the design system's purpose. This, in turn, leads to a more cohesive and user-friendly experience for all users of the product.

Differences between Primitive Tokens and Semantic Tokens

Primitive Design Tokens:

  1. Foundational Elements: Primitive tokens serve as foundational building blocks, focusing on basic design values like colors, typography, spacing, and more.

  2. Raw Values: They store raw and indivisible design values. For instance, "red" = "#FF2800."

  3. Aesthetics: Primitive tokens represent the core aesthetics of the design system, providing the visual style.

  4. Consistency and Maintainability: Their primary purpose is to ensure visual consistency and maintainability throughout a project.

  5. Simplified Usage: Using primitive tokens simplifies the design and development process, promoting a cohesive user experience.

Semantic Design Tokens:

  1. Layer of Meaning: Semantic tokens add meaning and context to design elements, going beyond raw aesthetics.

  2. Semantic Significance: They encompass design values with semantic significance, like "primary buttons" or "card backgrounds."

  3. Alias Capability: Semantic tokens can store not only primitive tokens but also other semantic tokens, allowing for complex design hierarchies (alias).

  4. Contextual Behavior: They define how design elements should appear and behave in different contexts within a product.

  5. Effective Communication: Semantic tokens effectively communicate design intent, promoting consistency and clarity in design decisions.

  6. Enhanced Collaboration: By incorporating semantic tokens, designers and developers can streamline collaboration and maintain a shared understanding of the design system's purpose.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Riccardo Marconato

Creative Designer specializing in Product Design and Design Systems. Over 10 years of experience, multiple awards, and international project contributions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Riccardo Marconato

Creative Designer specializing in Product Design and Design Systems. Over 10 years of experience, multiple awards, and international project contributions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Riccardo Marconato

Creative Designer specializing in Product Design and Design Systems. Over 10 years of experience, multiple awards, and international project contributions.

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Design System