How design systems thinking can change the way we design
The primary value of a design system is scalability.
Where there was once crippling technical and design debt, design systems enabled teams to be agile. This is primarily done through building systems of reusable blocks called components that can be easily assembled to create any interface you desire. This reusability means you’re able to do far more while having far less to maintain. But what about all that happens leading up to the point of putting mouse to artboard or keystroke to editor? Design systems address the way we build, but what about the way we design?
When the topic of design systems is brought up, we often assume we’re referring to an artifact: a body of code, documentation, or a Sketch file. Sometimes we assume we we’re referring to a team that maintains those artifacts and advocates for their use. But rarely do we refer to the way we design. I believe systems can include more than just output, they can include decision-making. One of the biggest challenges of a design team is velocity. How do we remove friction, create alignment, eliminate subjectivity, and organize highly specialized silo’d teams around a holistic consistent experience? To do this we need something that exists outside of someone’s head, that isn’t lost when someone leaves, and scales easier than headcount. A design system can be a comprehensive, repeatable, teachable, refine-able program for the entire process, as well as the output, of design.
First, we need to get out of the weeds. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll never know if we get there. This requires thinking abstractly about what it is we’re attempting to accomplish, which can be difficult when so much of our time is spent constructing the concrete. Vision is the achievement of the design experience. It’s our north star. Every project requires an assessment to gauge whether we’re closer to realizing the vision or if course correcting is needed.