Does your product really need a design system?

Álvaro Millán
5 min readMar 14, 2021


The importance of ‘whys’

In the DNA of all designers lies that innate curiosity that leads us to uncover the ‘whys’ that lie behind things and decisions. It’s like going back in time to our childhood when we drove our parents, grandparents and uncles crazy with a never ending string of ‘whys’.

This ability to challenge any decision, made at any level, can be vitally important for the business strategy of any company.

I still remember my first steps as a designer, more than 10 years ago now, during the initial surge in social media popularity. I remember many clients looking at me with incredulity when I asked them why they wanted to have a Facebook page.

Very few of them were able to give me a logical answer. Most of them didn’t even know what they would post on Facebook. But it was considered cool at the time, and everyone needed to have a Facebook page. That’s all they cared about.

The hype of design systems

As happened around 10 years ago, when many companies were obsessed with having their own Facebook page without knowing why they wanted one, the same thing appears to be happening now with design systems.

On a very basic level, a design system entails, amongst many other things, a catalog of components and resources which, based on common visual and interactive codes, can be assembled to create digital products and services in a simple manner.

This is nothing new. It is something that most of us digital designers have tried to build, when necessary, in a not-very-conscious way, to facilitate the work of constructing and propagating screens for the digital solutions that we were working on.

The decision on whether or not to build a design system is something which will be dictated by the requirements of the team, project and product. And that is exactly what happened to us at Telefónica.

So…did Telefónica need a design system?

Today, Telefónica has stepped beyond the threshold of being a simple telecommunications company, offering new digital products and services in different business lines every day. This offer is beginning to diversify the industry, and new solutions are constantly being added to telco services: fintech, insuretech, e-health and the IoT, among others.

In light of this, we conducted an exhaustive analysis of the design and experience that was being offered in the company’s different digital solutions. We also analyzed the way of working and the internal processes that existed in all of our teams, helping us to draw a series of conclusions that led us towards an optimization process that has been ongoing for more than two years.

During our research, we found that many differences existed between most of the elements that were needed to form a common design language within Telefónica’s ecosystem of products and services.

Typography, shapes, spaces and iconography were just some of the elements treated differently by each of the design and technology teams. Not only did this result in an inconsistent user and brand experience for our clients, but also, and more worryingly, it resulted in greater effort by all the teams involved in the construction of these products.

To put it very simply, each of these products were being developed independently by siloed teams, affecting the perception of a consistent relationship between the different digital services. This way of working was delaying the time to market, with different actors dealing with the same problems and requirements.

Faced with this issue, we felt that we needed to create a common design system for the entire Telefónica group in order to achieve process optimization and to reduce time to market, as well as the standardization, control and quality of the user experience.

Mística: Telefónica’s design system

Mística is the digital design system for all Telefónica teams, created with a view to obtaining a common design system for the entire Telefónica group, providing:

  • Global updates and improvements
  • Consistency between products
  • Multibrand
  • Optimization of processes
  • Web and native components

The system seeks to ensure speed and efficiency in the creation of digital products and services through the use of reusable technological components, interaction and communication patterns and research methods and processes, helping to shape an ecosystem of products with a homogeneous, global and consistent experience within the company .

Mística is an open and collaborative design system where teams and individuals from our organization are invited to contribute and share their design, development, product and business knowledge in order to establish new relationships and workflows that reflect the type of product that we deliver and our clients receive.

Does the story end here?

Mística was born in 2019 as a response to the complexity posed by the challenge of designing and building a multi-country, multi-brand and multi-platform set of products and services managed by different teams, with little communication between them in a large organization.

During these first two years, Mística has not only helped to create an attractive, coherent and accessible user interface for the main apps in the Telefónica ecosystem, but the design system has also helped to add value to many other products and devices.

Getting here has not been an easy road. Along the way we have learned many lessons and encountered an endless number of challenges, victories and defeats, which we will tell you about some other time.

Our design system is a product in its own right. As such, it is constantly evolving and developing in line with new business requirements, insights and, of course, those crucial ‘whys’ that we ask ourselves on a daily basis.

Do you want to hear more about Mística? Do not hesitate in asking me or one of the incredible people who have been behind the scenes: Yayo, Héctor, Miguel, Pau, Prada, Quique and many more!



Álvaro Millán

Product designer. Curious by nature. Animal lover. Travel lover.