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Design Tokens in Figma - Setting Up Your Design System
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Design Tokens in Figma - Setting Up Your Design System

Billy Sweetman
Head of Design

Design systems and their corresponding UI kits are a great tool to speed up the design process and development. However, there is still a delay between a change in the design and when it gets adjusted into the living development environment.

One way to speed up this process is by creating design tokens.

In this blog post, we'll cover how to setup your Figma file and some tools that can help facilitate the tokenization of your design system in Figma.

What we'll cover

  • What are design tokens?
  • Benefits of design tokens
  • What to set up as design tokens
  • How to prepare your Figma file
  • Design token tools to help facilitate the communication

What are design tokens?

Design tokens are visual values that construct the foundational pieces of your designs. These items must be simple data components that can easily be consumed by our living coded design system. Examples of design tokens are elements like colors, type styles, spacers, shadows, animations.

visual example of what a design token is

Rather than using hard-coded values such as pixel values or hex values for color, design tokens create consistency as your design system scales.

Benefits of design tokens

Setting up tokens will not only speed up the hand-off from design to development - it will also help keep things consistent between design and development. After the initial setup, these tokens will help push changes from your design tool to the live system - either completely automating the process or automating a good portion of the process.

Here are some benefits:

  • Faster hand-off process
  • Consistent design implementation in development
  • Increases design automation

What to set up as design tokens

There are a lot of components that could be tokenized - however we want to focus on the lowest building blocks for our system. Those building blocks tend to be the least complicated components or things that are the foundations of our system.

  • Colors
  • Opacity
  • Typographic Scale
  • Shadows
  • Corner Radius
  • Vertical Spacers
  • Animation Curves

How to prepare your Figma file

Once we've selected what items we want to set up for tokenization we'll need to work that into our design system in Figma as well. This is one of the first steps we'll do when working on our design systems.

Where to store design tokens

One of the biggest questions is where do you store your tokens.

We tend to fall into the multi-tiered UI kit for large systems and have our tokens in their own file. But if you look at our Shipwright UI Kit in Figma they can also be stored right in the UI kit as well. We recommend having them as their own page if that is the case.

design system tokens example in figma file

Once you've decided that, the rest is really setting up your colors, type, and shadows as different styles in our Figma file. There currently isn't a way to save spacers as a style, so we'll make those as components that we can use in our designs.

Review with design and development team

Once your styles are setup, it's a good idea to walk through all the design tokens you created and where they will live with the design and development team. Go through the token page and cover any questions they might have.

Naming conventions

When you meet with the design and development team, another key thing to discuss is creating a naming convention that works for your team and product.

Design token tools and management

Toolabs

screenshot of toolabs design system manager

One of the tools that will help connect your Figma design system to your developed system is Toolabs. This tool will allow you to create a page with the entire system visible to your developers. There is even an API that can be accessed.

Toolabs - Design System Manager

Figma API

figma api process for design tokens

Another direction you can go, is to hook up directly to the Figma API. Below you can find a great blog post to learn more.

Design Tokens with Figma API

Next steps and development

Now that your file is prepared, the next step is to work with the development team to get them living in the coded system. Check out the process we use to update our design systems.

More design system resources

Intro to Design Systems

Design System Management and Documentation

Design System Updates and Communication

Multi-Tiered UI Kits for Design Systems

Figma Plugins for Better App Design Workflows

Free Figma UI Kit and Design System Template

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