Frequently Asked Questions

What is a design system?

A design system is a catalogue of everything that makes up your digital product including user interface elements, writing style, guiding principles, coding standards, visual design, etc. A design system provides information about your product or set of products, and reusable components for easy development.

Building a design system is a collaborative effort, and requires expertise across all fields of web and application design. A design system takes into account all aspects of the product and encompasses all levels of the user’s and the creator’s experience.

Who created Aurora design system?

Aurora design system is a collaborative effort between various designers, developers and writers across the Government of Canada. Led by the Digital Enablement Division at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the system was built in collaboration with the Canadian Digital Service: Talent Cloud, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and other individuals within Government of Canada.

Who can use Aurora design system?

Aurora design system is open for anyone to use! It was originally created to help guide digital collaboration tools used within the Government of Canada, but the system can be adapted to create citizen-focused services or external digital products.

Our design system is a guide. Our team follows it closely for our products but many elements can be adapted for your own brand or product - only use the parts that are useful to you!

We recommend that while building a new product you begin by following the system as closely as possible, then you can adapt certain elements (i.e. colours, language style, icons) to suit your own product or brand.

Are there other design systems that exist in the public sector?

Although design systems are relatively new in the public sector, some government organisations have already been working on their own design systems. For example, the Government of the United States of America released their Web Design Standards, Italy's Design Agency released Designers Italia and the Government of the United Kingdom is currently building their own web standards.

In Canada all official websites use the Web Experience Toolkit which is a more rigid style guide than this system. The Canadian Digital Service is currently working on a Government of Canada UI kit.

Why did you create Aurora design system?

Some of the key reasons we are building this design system are that it:

• Allows for consistency across applications and platforms, particularly taking into consideration the rebuild of GCTools and other digital collaboration services;

• Creates partnership opportunities with interested communities, both within and outside the Government of Canada;

• Saves development and design time because components are reusable and effectively organized. These systems complement the agile development process by removing the need for multiple design and UI iterations;

• Has specifications for designing new features that are determined from the beginning, meaning more time can be spent on business and making complex decisions. Therefore less focus is needed on repetitive design problems throughout the process of new development.

• Enables staying current with external design and technology trends, especially with the rapid change in the industry.

How is Aurora design system different from current standards such as the Web Experience Toolkit (WET) or the style guide? How do they all work together?

Aurora design system is a style guide that is specific to our digital collaboration tools and applications, including coding templates and components, as well as design elements, our key principles and communications guidelines. Each piece of the design system has extensive documentation on best practices as well as how and when to use each component or element we’ve provided.

This design system isn’t a direct alternative to WET or the Style Guide, however it follows the key principles and core concepts of these existing style guides. We hope that as this project moves forward we can identify opportunities to work with the developers who worked on WET to improve both systems.

How did you build Aurora design system?

The design system was built using the Digital Enablement Division's existing agile development method. Following our two-week development sprint model, we decided to start separate design sprints on the same cycle. Every two weeks we would pick a particular theme (i.e. typography, forms) to work on.

Pieces were first identified using a handy parts checklist and then listed as separate issues in Github. We managed tasks using an online Kanban board. When files were completed we uploaded them to our Github repository so that they were easily accessible to all members of the team and other partners.

On an ongoing basis, work for the design system will be integrated into existing development cycles within the Digital Enablement team.

Are there files I can download and use?

Yes! Aurora design system includes a resources section and user interface (UI) kit. Here you can download Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe XD files.

Some files include specific assets or typefaces, others are full layouts, grids and prototypes.

Is the code in Aurora design system open source?

Yes! All aspects of our design system are open source and available for anyone to use. This includes all the code, documentation, design assets and download files. Aurora design system was also created and shared using open source tools such as Github,, Riot and Gitbook.