Before hiring me to design and build a new design system, NYSHEX was relying on the free & open source Material UI design system to build their product. While this worked for simple elements likes buttons and alerts, Material UI required a lot of hacks and overrides for components such as tables and filtering. And since NYSHEX is a very table-heavy app, this meant lots of extra work for designers and developers to customize Material UI to get it do what they needed it to do.
Additionally, while Material UI looks and works great for a lot of apps, eventually your product starts to look like many other apps. And as NYSHEX matured and set its eyes on a Series C, it was decided that a new look and feel combined with the existing engineering challenges necessitated a new design system.
I joined in January of 2023 to become the 3rd product designer at NYSHEX and set out to build a new design system that was:
Prototyped (with accessible components)
Built on top of tokens
Supported white labeling for NYSHEX's customers.
As the sole designer to work on the design system, my responsibilities included:
Setting up the Figma project and component naming structure
Creating the underlying design token system
Working directly with engineers to implement components and adopt best practices
Naming & Logo
All great design systems have a name, and Keel was to be no exception. In sticking with the nautical theme of NYSHEX, I settled on "Keel" as the name. On a ship, the keel is "the bottom-most structural member around which the hull of a ship is built." And since a design system is the structure on which a product is built, it fit perfectly.
Creating a consistent color palette
Based around the core brand color, I set out to create a new color palette that was both accessible, but also consistent between different colors at the same position in the ramp. To accomplish this, I used the Leonardo tool and manually tweaked contrast values to dial in a varied and consistent color palette.
Complete color palette
Split across 9 colors and each with at least 8 shades, a new palette was created that kept relative luminosity and saturation consistent across the same step in a different color. This means that ColorOcean600 has the same relative brightness and saturation when placed next to an element with a color of ColorCoral600.
As you may notice, each color is nautically themed as well.As you may notice, each color is nautically themed as well. level. By using similar relative saturation and luminosity, none of the alerts stand out against each other in terms of color.
Color scale comparison
In the below example of an Alert component, the background of each alert has a 100 level background color, and the text and icons are 600 level. By using similar relative saturation and luminosity, none of the alerts stand out against each other in terms of color.
When converted to grayscale, the uniform color ramp can be seen more clearly.
Keel's design tokens
To make component development easier, as well as support NYSHEX's goal of full white-label support for its customers, a full token architecture was created from scratch using Tokens Studio. Early on in the project, I met with the engineering team to define a token strategy and naming convention.
After much discussion (and leaning on my past experience with Quilt, we settled on a Global to Alias level token nomenclature.
While every token starts as a global token, some also end as global tokens. For the sake of ease of use, these tokens remained as global tokens and never received an alias token:
Spacing (margin, gap and padding)
Sizing (specifically declared width & height)
Alias tokens take global tokens and apply one level of specificity to them. We applied alias tokens to:
Component token example
Exposure in Figma Dev Mode
Identified early on in the project was the absolute necessity for Keel and the tokens to support whitelabeling the app for NYSHEX's various carrier clients. To accomplish this, I built a "core" set of tokens that contained the tokens that would be consistent for all themes (such as spacing and sizing), and then a separate theme for each whitelabel that contained brand-specific colors and typography.
Below is a video showing whitelabel theme switching within Figma. Note: carrier names have been anonymized and the video is slightly sped up.
Whitelabel theme switching in Figma
Below is a list of components such as Alert, Text Badge, Date Picker, and Stepper (which is the most complex component in Keel)
FigJam Process Overview
I re-used the same successful FigJam overview from Quilt to handoff to devs & designers on the overall process of how to successfully use Keel or make changes and implement new components.
Figma-component-level engineering specs
Every component in Figma received detailed specs on how the component was setup, the different variants, states, as well as which tokens were being used.
For easier discovery and more engineering-focused documentation, I co-created documentation in Notion more centered around engineering.
Keel Lunch & Learn Engineering Benefits
Below is a slide the front end engineers created to summarize the benefits Keel was providing the engineering team.
Keel in total
In total, Keel is currently 127 components. All in all, Keel has the following components (and sub-components):