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Design Tokens… What's the point?

We're probably wasting time with $designTokens
Credit: Ideogram.ai

The Overrated Role of Design Tokens: A Critical Perspective

In the realm of digital product design, design tokens have emerged as a popular solution for maintaining consistency and ensuring the seamless transition of design elements across platforms and teams. However, their efficacy and widespread adoption are often overstated, leading to a situation where design tokens are often more trouble than they're worth.

Token Overhype: A Lack of Real-World Adoption

While design tokens hold promise for streamlining design workflows, their practical application is often limited. In my experience working with both marketing designers and live installation designers, there is a striking lack of consensus on the use or even awareness of design tokens. This lack of adoption across different design disciplines highlights the token's limitations in establishing a common design language.

The Extra Layer of Vernacular: CSS Variables vs. Design Tokens

Design tokens introduce an additional layer of complexity into the design process, adding a new vocabulary to the existing language of CSS variables. This can lead to confusion and hinder the ability of designers and developers to communicate effectively. Instead of relying on a proprietary token system, why not directly utilize the familiar and widely understood language of CSS variables?

A Matter of Efficiency: Streamlining Design with Consistency

While design tokens aim to achieve consistency across design teams, they often create more inefficiencies than they solve. The overhead of maintaining and managing a separate token library can be significant, and the added layer of complexity can hinder the design process.

Rethinking Design Token Strategies: Focus on Consistency and Collaboration

Instead of placing undue emphasis on design tokens, we should re-evaluate our approach to design consistency and collaboration. Emphasize the use of CSS variables and shared design documents to ensure that designers and developers can effectively communicate and maintain consistency across different platforms and mediums.

Conclusion: A Return to Simplicity

Design tokens may have initially presented a promising solution for unifying design systems. However, their over-reliance on a proprietary vocabulary and their limited adoption across design disciplines make them less than ideal for achieving widespread consistency. Instead of focusing on the complexity of design tokens, we should prioritize simplicity, transparency, and the effective use of existing standards like CSS variables.

This article was written with the help of Bard AI
Original prompt:
write an article that talks about design tokens. this should be a critical artical focussing on the lack use across other mediums making the need for tokens redundant. Mention how this extra layer of vernacular over the use of css variables creates waste and confusion when we should just use css variables. Note in my anecdotal experience working with marketing designers and live installation designers that neither use a share design token vocabulary and so it doesn't work as a construct to align desperate design functions.

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