How to design apps using atomic design?

April 6, 2023

For solving design problems, there needs to be a good balance between an efficient process and keeping the users an integral part of the process. A modern and effective approach to design is the atomic design methodology. It is a type of framework that means to help designers organize their efforts and guide them in the design process.

The fundamental principle of atomic design is that interfaces comprise smaller components. So we can break down interfaces into fundamental building blocks and work from there.

🛠️ Components of Atomic Design Methodology


Atoms are the smallest and most basic building blocks of the design system. They are indivisible and cannot be broken down into smaller parts. Examples are buttons, logos, text fields etc. 

Courtesy: Adobe XD


Like in Chemistry, atoms come together to form molecules. The disjoint atoms - buttons logos etc, come together for a common purpose. Search input with a button, Form field with a label and card headers are examples of molecules.  

Courtesy: Brad Frost


Organisms are relatively complex UI components formed by combining molecules and/or atoms. Organisms represent distinct sections of an interface brought together by a combination of simpler components. Examples of organisms are cards, sidebars or forms. 

Courtesy: Brad Frost


Templates are the structure or layout of a page, built by combining organisms, molecules, and atoms. Templates provide a contextual framework to showcase various UI components and establish their relationships. Examples of templates are a blog post template, product listing template or a login page template. 

Courtesy: Brad Frost


Pages are the final stage that combines atoms, molecules, organisms, and templates as a fully-realized user interface. Pages are templates filled with actual content, demonstrating how everything looks and works in real-world usage.

They are necessary to test and validate the entire design system's effectiveness, as they facilitate the evaluation of your product's interactions, responsiveness, and overall user experience.

Courtesy: Brad Frost

🤝 Benefits of Atomic Design

  • Attention to detail: Right from the atoms, every aspect of the design needs to be given attention. This leads to a more coherent design that is focused on the needs of the audience and brings clarity.
  • Reusable: The components designed in the atoms phase are reusable across the board. With atomic framework, you ensure that the elements can be adapted for future designs following the same pattern
  • Flexible and Adaptable: We have a flexible system that can be used for just about anything through the groups of components and patterns for each type of content in the product (molecules and organisms). The templates offer a great way to ensure that a certain coherence is kept with each new screen.
  • An intrinsic style guide: Without creating it explicitly, with atomic design methodology, you have a style guide with each atom and molecule explicitly chosen. 
  • Efficient Development: The way atomic design methodology works, fewer components are built. You avoid duplicates, strengthen system consistency, and simplify the developer's job. 

📲 Atomic Design in real apps

Here are a few examples of apps and organizations that have adopted design systems inspired by or closely resembling the atomic design methodology:

  1. Uber: Uber created a design system called "Base" to standardize their user interfaces and improve cross-platform consistency. While not explicitly labelling it atomic design, it is similar to the methodology, focusing on reusable components as building blocks for user interfaces.
  2. Shopify: Shopify's design system, called "Polaris," aims to provide a consistent, accessible, and efficient user experience across their products. Polaris includes reusable components and guidelines, which are compatible with atomic design principles. 
  3. Trello: Trello, a project management tool, built its design system ("Nachos") to maintain consistency and quality across its applications. Nachos consists of reusable components resembling atomic design principles. 

Challenges of atomic design and how to overcome them

1. Initial setup and complexity

Establishing an atomic design system can be time-consuming and complex, especially when defining the necessary components, patterns, and rules. It is trickier to do it for an existing product. 
Solution: Plan and invest time in defining a shared design language, style guide, and component library before creating templates and pages. Involve all team members from the beginning in the process.

2. Managing component granularity. 

Determining the appropriate level of granularity when breaking down components into atoms, molecules, and organisms can be challenging.

Solution: Find a balance that creates reusable components without overcomplicating the structure. Avoid over-optimising or splitting components unnecessarily, and ensure each component serves a clear purpose.

3. Effort required for team adoption. 

The atomic design methodology may require a shift in mindset and workflow for some team members, which can be challenging to achieve.
Solution: Provide training and resources to help team members understand the benefits and principles of the atomic design methodology. Establish a strong communication channel.

4. Maintaining consistency

As projects evolve, maintaining consistency across the design system can become challenging.
Solution: Regularly review and audit components, templates, and pages to ensure that they adhere to the design system's guidelines. 

5. Overlooking the content

Because atomic design focuses on component-level design, the overall meaning or narrative of the content may be overlooked.
Solution: Pay attention to content hierarchy and context when assembling components in a template or page. 

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