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Component Design Guidelines

Be it a new component contribution, or plugin specific components, you'll want to follow these guidelines. We'll cover the three main subjects that define the general look and feel of your components, all of which build on top of the Material-UI theme features:

  • Layout
  • Color palette
  • Typography

🏗️ Layout

Layout refers to how you organize or stack content. Whenever possible, we want to use Backstage's components (check the Storybook for a list and demo) first, and otherwise fall back to Material-UI components (check the MUI docs).

If none of these fit your layout needs, then you can build your own components. However, using HTML+CSS directly is not recommended; it's better to use MUI layout components to make your layout theme aware, meaning if someone changes the theme, your layout would react to those changes without requiring updates to your code.

Specifically you want to look at these components that make use of the theme.spacing() function for margins, paddings and positions, as well as color palette and typography:

  • Container mostly at page level
  • Box like a div that can be customized a lot
  • Grid for flexible grid layouts
  • Paper The base of a card, like it's background & padding on the borders
  • Card Card with support for title, description, buttons, images...

Color palette

If you're using an existing component and want to tweak the colors it uses in general in the whole application, you can use a Custom Theme to override specific styles for that component, that includes paddings, margins and colors.

However when making a component from scratch you'll need to reference the theme as much as possible, make sure to use the theme's color palette. Most Backstage components and all MUI components should use the theme's color palette by default, so unless you need explicit control on the color of a component (say when the component was designed to use the primary color but you want to use the secondary color instead), then the easiest way to access the color palette is to Override the Component Styles as suggested by Backstage.

It's not a very common use case to override a theme color in a MUI component but let's say you have a custom Sidebar component with a Paper component that highlights its content with a different color for a side menu or something (usually you use the elevation, but maybe the designer wanted a colorful app). You can use the theme like this:

import { makeStyles, Paper } from '@material-ui/core';

const useStyles = makeStyles((theme: Theme) => ({
sidebarPaper: {
backgroundColor: theme.palette.primary.main,
color: theme.palette.primary.contrastText,

export function Sidebar({ children }) {
const { sidebarPaper } = useStyles();
return <Paper className={sidebarPaper}>{children}</Paper>;

Here is a link to the Default Palette values you can use, the tokens will be the same, what changes are the colors associated with those depending on your app theme color palette, there's also a Default Theme Explorer to look which tokens you can use as reference from the compiled theme.


Most of the time the components from MUI will use the <Typography /> component which will use the theme's typography properties like font family, size, weight and appropriate color from the palette for the context of that component. This applies for example to buttons that use white font color for contained buttons, or the respective color passed on via props when not outlined for proper contrast (buttons in dark theme adapt properly by using a dark font instead of white).

However for those cases where the parent component of the content doesn't handle the text, like when the parent component is a layout one, you use typography component instead of the HTML counterparts, usually used for titles and paragraphs but it is valid for any type of text.

Check the Typography docs for information on how to install, use, customize semantic elements and specially the recommendations about accessibility.