This seminar is about maintaining design systems, but the lessons within could be applied to any collaborative effort across teams, departments, and groups. These common-sense — but so smart you’re wondering why you’re not doing them already — tips go a long way toward creating enduring work, including design systems, that we can all feel good about.
In practice, a design system is a set of living principles used by designers and developers to build consistent products and experiences. With components like brand guidelines, pattern libraries, voice and tone guides, the sum is greater than the parts. It is also a product — your product — and as Inyaili de Leon Persson outlines in this seminar, the steps for its success will look a bit like the steps for the successful outcome of any other product or experience you design.
Now, if you’ve ever created a design system, you know how complex, layered, and collaborative that process was for your team (if you had one) and for your organization. And, for as hard as it is to build a design system from scratch, it is even harder to keep it alive and thriving.
From the start, your design system needs an owner to be a blend of product manager, salesperson, entrepreneur, and advocate and the owner needs users. The owner takes in the necessary feedback from others and invites users to share their challenges, the weak spots, and their new needs. The owner will need to share what they know in clear documentation, and what’s next for the design system. Keeping everyone on the same page keeps everyone invested in the design system.
What a design system is (and isn’t)
- A design system is a set of living principles, guides, and components used by designers and developers to build consistent products and experiences.
- It may feature elements like brand guidelines, wireframes, voice and tone guides, and it will be added to and edited over time.
- For a meta moment: a design system is a product, too, that your team has designed.
How to rely on other people and teams throughout your design system’s lifecycle
- From the beginning, we must include other leaders and teams beyond design in the design system development project.
- Collaboration with users ensures usefulness.
- This line of work is new, and the field is changing often with new technologies, processes, rules, and concepts being introduced all the time. Be eager to share and learn from those beyond your organization.
How to share
- Because the design system is never “done,” there will come a time when you’ll need to accept help. Do that. Consider what parts of this project you can hand off and what information your support staff will need to be successful.
- Document, define, and explain each element of the work. Don’t assume that just because you understand the nuances of the work that anyone else will.
- Be open-minded to the experience, needs, and feedback of others and open about your process, roadmap, and progress.
Whenever there is an opportunity to be collaborative, seek buy-in, and build consensus, we should. Because this is a resource used across the organization, changing, modifying, improving, or deleting from the design system are opportunities to engage the entire design team and also other teams as welcomed collaborators. We need to make space for users with quick and clear opinions and users who think before speaking; if they work with your design system, they have a valuable perspective.
When you make the shift and think of the design system “as a product for your organization,” colleagues come into view as users. Because you know the design system isn’t a one and done effort, the more we think about who we can lean on and learn from, the more we ensure our product’s longevity and usefulness.