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I would like to get your input and experiences with styleguides. Some of the designers I work with insist that the design system should have rules to be followed to the T.

Some sample rules are:

A cards border is always 16px from the left.

Content is always separated by vertical padding of 24px.

Dashboard buttons are always to the top right with 16px vertical padding from the content.

Our company has multiple in house applications in development. While I understand the need to have consistency (typography, buttons, color palette, iconography etc..) I disagree with having rules like these where a change of pixels becomes a rigidity to other designers.

I would like to know how your team is using your design system / styleguide, and if it is riddled with spacing rules that all designers must follow.

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I think the days of strict spacing rules in style guides worked well when the screen sizes and resolutions on devices were not as diverse as it is today. But with responsive web design the main motivations of setting up design systems, it is more advantageous to have design system rules based on proportions and ratios rather than absolute values, because you can't scale or adapt to different displays and devices very well that way.

But it is also worth taking into consideration whether you are looking at spacing as an isolated instance of design system/style guide rules or if there are other aspects that are also set in stone. I think you'll find that strict spacing rules will have an impact on other parts of the design system as well, so I would expect that if you set very specific rules for spacing then you will also need specific rules for UI component dimensions so that the spacing rules will work well.

When you say that your "company has multiple in house applications in development", I assume that these are internal facing applications that are probably deployed within a standard operating environment (e.g. company desktop machines and laptops that are similar enough), so it could make sense to use more strict rules when there are less variables to consider and deal with.

As usual, it is also important to consider a design system/style guide as a product or service, so it is good practice to ensure that the product or service is fit for purpose for the users (i.e. the designers and developers).

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