Aalto University Design system

A design system for the second-largest university in Finland. Spanning six schools from different fields, university services, and up to 450 sites run by affiliated professionals and students.

Aalto Design System site

The University

Established in 2010 from a merger of three major universities Aalto University is a Finnish institution. Working in the fields of science, arts, technology, and business with a common goal to shape a sustainable future.

With faculty of 4k and over 12k students Aalto has people from over 100 nationalities.

Some of them run the daily operations of the university. Some of them work on research and share their findings. Some of them build student organisations while others build artificial intelligence applications.

Aalto University website

The Need

First, we curated interviews to understand the problems editors and creators face in the current ecosystem.

Next, we audited eight Aalto and affiliate sites, varying in size and purpose. Screenshots were taken to compile a list of necessary components and to identify the specific requirements of these components across different use cases.

To serve the full spectrum of people at Aalto a system was needed. A system for creating accessible, user-friendly digital experiences.

It became evident that a restrictive system would risk abandonment by those who want to express their creativity. But a system that is too open would force everyone to design.

The Solution

The Aalto University Design system is a flexible tool where core principles guard accessibility while token structure allows freedom of expression.

Aalto Design System site

The system is based on Aalto’s values: natural, inclusive, confident and progressive. These values guide the system to emphasize accessibility, green coding and flexibility.

A technology agnostic approach was selected to give all parties the possibility to utilize the system.

Design tokens were built to enable changes in visual styling, while still ensuring a cohesive user experience and facilitating accessible design choices.

The system is structured in tokens, components, modules, sections, and, in the next release, templates, to help different user groups including designers, developers, and editors.

Figma library, Storybook, and website guidelines are included in the system for different users: those building the system and those using it.

A governance model for guarding, guiding and updating the system was planned and implemented.

The Team

Aalto Design System is built in a multi-vendor environment involving Aalto, Taiste, Siili and Hasan & partners.

Aalto University’s role is product and brand ownership.

Taiste is responsible for system development and user experience design.

Siili builds and maintains Aalto’s main site.

Hasan & partners is responsible for brand development and visual design.

Other work

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