Atomic design is the secret methodology to cohesive, consistent design. Sounds like a secret you should know about it, so let's get right into it.
An Introduction to Atomic Design
Fasten your seat belt because we’re blasting back into the past. Atomic Design gained inspiration from the world of natural science, believe it or not, so be prepared to have your high school memories triggered by this methodology. We apologize in advance.
All organisms and complex structures are made up of molecules that are made up of atoms. Atoms are the basic building blocks of all matter which means that two or more atoms convulse to form molecules. Molecules, which are held together by chemical bonds, are much more tangible and are then assembled to make up organisms.
At this point, all particles that have merged are now functioning as one single unit which can then be broken down into a finite set of atomic elements. Remember the periodic table?
Atomic design is built off the idea of simple molecules converging together to form a bigger component, or organism that can also be broken down similar to the elements in the periodic table. Instead, the interface of a website can be broken down into similar elements.
The periodic table of HTML elements wonderfully displays how all applications are composed of the same HTML elements that designers use frequently. This is almost identical to organisms being broken down into elements that are showcased on the periodic table and were jammed into our heads years ago.
Just as atomic elements have their structure, the atoms that make up the HTML table form a process known as atomic web design.
Breaking down the Atomic Design hierarchy
Atomic design is a methodology made up of five stages that work together to create the interface design process. Each stage is made of a group of components from the previous stage, allowing designers to think of web pages as a hierarchy of reusable contents.
Virtual atoms are what make up the systems created by designers. Anything that cannot be broken down further within the user interface is labeled as an atom.
This includes but isn’t limited to input fields, text paragraphs, buttons, checkboxes, and any other atoms that you can think of. It’s important to remember that any atoms in the user interface that can combine to create a molecule will always be labeled as atoms.
As mentioned before, molecules are made up of atoms that are bonded together. Anything in the user interface that is composed of atoms is labeled a molecule.
The perfect example would be a blog subscription box that is made up of a field label atom, an input field atom, and the button atom.
Organisms are groups of molecules that are joined together to form more complex beings.
In interface terms, the organism is any design sequence that appears on website pages. Prime examples are headers and footers that consist of two or more molecules such as the infamous search bar.
Say goodbye to the Chemistry analogy! Templates consist of components that are strategically placed to articulate the content structure of the design. The header and footer organisms are placed into what would be the homepage template, joining other molecules and organisms that must function together effectively.
Templates are effective because they ensure that the components of the design system that is being crafted look and function together as a whole. Think of atomic design templates as maps for the designer
Once designers reach the last stage, they’re able to begin adding the contents of the page to see the final product. If the previous four steps were done correctly, then the final step gives designers the freedom to drop in images, text, and all that good stuff to give them an idea of what the UI will look like.
It’s what users and stakeholders will see, and where all the previous components come together to form a beautiful user interface.
Why Working from Basic Components is Advantageous in Atomic Design
When you build something from scratch and evolve it into something granular, flexible, and effective, the feeling of success is unmatched. Feelings aside, working from the ground up means that you understand every component that was used and know what it takes to create a larger outcome.
Atomic web design allows designers to better understand their approach to interface design and apply bits of their approach to consistently build pages that function well.
Atomic Design is Clean, Simple, and Flexible
Atomic design may sound intricate at first and get you thinking about your high school Chemistry teacher. Once you’re able to get past those bumps in the road, it is hard to neglect how similar this web design approach is to atomic theory. The only difference is that atomic web design is meant to be clean, simple, and flexible for user interface designers.