Helsinki Design System
Helsinki Design System
Getting started
IntroductionFor designersPrinciplesGetting startedSetting upUsing librariesFor developers
Visual assets
Design tokens
Getting started for designers

For designers

The HDS design kit contains all the resources you need to get started designing beautiful and accessible user experiences that follow the City of Helsinki brand.

The HDS design libraries are the single point of reference for your design. When you connect your design files with the design system libraries, you can have the components synced whenever the design system is updated.


Always keep these core principles in mind when making design decisions:

  • Modular and flexible: All components are designed to work as reusable, customisable building blocks to help people work smarter, better and faster.
  • Consistent: All components are designed to fit together seamlessly to ensure consistent and cohesive user experience.
  • Accessibility baked-in: Accessibility is part of the process from start to end. It is designed to be accessible to all, regardless of ability or situation.

Getting started

  1. Explore the City of Helsinki Visual Identity Guidelines to learn the design principles of the brand.
  2. Take a look at the Components documentation to see what is available and how you can incorporate those into your designs.
  3. The design assets are available either via direct design kit download or via the City of Helsinki Abstract. To use HDS libraries, you will need to install Sketch. See more on downloading and setting up the libraries below.
  4. If you have an idea for improvements or a component that could be a useful addition to the Design System, see the Contributing page for more information.

Setting up

Install the tools

The HDS design workflow is based on Sketch and Abstract (if you have access to Helsinki organisation):

  • Sketch is a vector graphics editor and is widely adopted by designers to create user interface designs for web and mobile services.
  • Abstract is a design collaboration and version and managegement tool that enables designers to share Sketch files and libraries easily. By leveraging and extends the technology of Git, Abstract provides design teams with a lightweight workflow and stable tools so designers can work together with confidence.

If you are a newcomer to Sketch or Abstract, they both offer some great tutorials and help

You do not necessarily need Abstract to use HDS design libraries. Abstract is a convenient way to get access and update Sketch libraires, but we also offer downloadable HDS design kit. Read below to learn how to download the design kit.

Install fonts

Make sure that you have the Helsinki Grotesk font installed.

Helsinki Grotesk font can be purchased from Camelot Typefaces website

Import HDS libraries

You can start using the HDS design libraries to your project in two ways:

1. Downloading HDS Design kit and linking libraries in Sketch

This option gives you a stable version controlled package of all components released in the design system. You can choose what libraries you want to import, but we recommend importing all of them for best experience.

  1. Head over to HDS GitHub repository releases.
  2. Download design-kit (preferably the newest stable version) to your computer and unzip the package.
  3. Open Sketch and from the top bar thoose Sketch > Preferences.
  4. Choose tab Libraries and press the button Add library.
  5. Browse to the unzipped folder you just downloaded and select libraries you want to import. Note, you can select multiple libraries by holding the shift key.
Linking libraries in Sketch preferences

2. Linking libraries from Abstract

This option keeps the components used in your designs in sync with the Master library. When changes are made to the Master Library, you’ll have the option to update your symbols from Master via an alert in the top right corner in Sketch.

You will need permissions to access the City of Helsinki Abstract organisation for using libraries from Abstract.

Note! Library versions in Abstract are considered development versions. They can change and things may be unstable. Using libraries from Abstract allows you to get your hands also on the newest components that are not released yet. If you need more reliable libraries, follow the instructions of option 1. above to download latest stable HDS design kit release.

  1. In Abstract, open up a branch within the project you are working on. You'll either need an invite to a existing project in the City of Helsinki organisation, or permissions to create a new project. See Abstract documentation for more information on joining organizations and starting projects.
  2. From the top of the branch view, select the Files tab
  3. From the top of the file list, select Add File > Link Library…
  4. Select the Helsinki Design System project
  5. Select one or multiple HDS Libraries and click Link Libraries
  6. Merge branch to the project master.
Linking HDS master librariesSelecting Helsinki Design System libraries from the list

Using libraries

HDS components and icons live in the HDS libraries as Sketch symbols.

There are two kinds of symbols in Sketch — library symbols and document symbols. Library symbols are available in any Sketch document, while document symbols are specific to the document in which they are found.

The HDS component symbols are library symbols. Do not detach symbols from the library. Once a symbol is detached, you will no longer receive updates as they are released.

Using HDS master library files

Adding component symbols to layouts

Symbols are mainly organised into library files by component, except form components (checkboxes, radio buttons, dropdowns and text fields), that are grouped into one library HDS Form Components file for convenience.

You can add symbols to your layout in two ways:

  1. From the Insert menu, by selecting Symbols > HDS [component name]. After selecting a HDS component, you’ll see the variations and states of that component. Select the desired variant and place it on your artboard.
Inserting TextInput component from Sketch Insert menu
  1. From the Components tab in the sidebar on the left, by selecting HDS [component name]. After selecting a HDS component, you’ll see the variations and states of that component. Select the desired variant from the sidebar, and drag it to your artboard.

You can also select All and filter the components list by component or variant name.

Inserting component from Components tab

Customising component symbols

The component symbols use smart layout for easy resizing. You can also configure the content and styling of symbol parts from the Overrides section of symbol properties.

When changing the colour or other styles of component symbols, be sure your custom design adheres to the design guidelines. Styles within components are carefully considered. We do not recommend detaching the symbol to change default styles.

Customising symbol overrides

Styling text elements

Linking the HDS Typography library to your project adds the possibility to give HDS text styles to your text elements. You can add text styles to your layout in two ways:

  1. You can add a new text element with appropriate text style from the Insert menu: Select the HDS Typography from the Text styles section, choose the desired text style, and click anywhere on your artboard. This creates a new text element with the chosen style.
Inserting header styles
  1. You can give text styles to existing text elements by selecting the text element and changing its style from the Appearance sidebar.
Changing text elements style