Setting your design system up for success

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Jul 16, 2018
Link copied to clipboard

So you’ve decided that it’s time for your organization to create a design system and put it into effect. That’s great. You’re joining a group of companies like IBM, Uber, and Airbnb that are creating digital products whose experiences are more consistent and whose production processes are more efficient. That’s music to the ears of developers, engineers, and executives alike.

But don’t go in unprepared. A design system is a long-term commitment that will require continuous capital in the form of people and time, but the investment is far outweighed by the reward.

Related: The benefits of shared design systems

Here are some things you’ll want to consider as you’re getting started that will set you up for design system success.

Allot appropriate resources

There’s nothing worse that a well-intentioned product that’s left to wither away. Don’t let it happen to your design system. Make sure you invest the right amount of resources up front.

To get those resources, you’ll need support from both ends of the spectrum. You’ll need to foster top-level support from project managers up through VPs. Encourage them to see the value of a design system so that they’ll provide resources for its implementation and advocate for its use company-wide.

You’ll also need to cultivate lower-level support to increase adoption. Your design system should be a company-wide initiative, and everyone should be encouraged to contribute. This creates a sense of ownership and pride in the product.

As you lay the foundation for your design system, make sure you invest in areas like accessibility and architecture. You’ll want your system to scale as adoption grows and spreads throughout the company, and it’s no good trying to scale a system that’s unstable or lacking.

Take care of your design system and continue to invest the resources you need to ensure its success. Have a dedicated person (or team) that handles incoming requests and updates style changes as systems change and improve.

Make commitments and follow through

The best way to drive adoption of your design system and show its true value is to deliver design components that save time and align with an urgent business goal. By doing this, you’ve won over designers and engineers by making their jobs easier, and you’ve convinced upper management of the value by contributing to company objectives while saving resources.

“Drive adoption of your design system by delivering design components that save time and align with an urgent business goal.”

Make your system useful and easy to use. It sounds like common sense, but the more integrated your design system and its rules are into the tools that your team use every day, the more valuable the system becomes.

Move your design system from theory to practice by getting your elements and rules out of the documentation and into the tools. This is made easier by using tools like InVision’s Design System Manager or by creating in-house resources like Sketch libraries.

Don’t lose sight of your long-term vision

Creating, implementing, and maintaining a design system is no simple task. You have to find the balance between helping out with the immediate needs of your design and development teams while staying the course of your long-term design system plan.

When you create on a company-wide design system, the exposure offers you the opportunity to contribute and partner with all kinds of teams, projects, and products. This is what makes creating a design system job fun and rewarding, but it also makes it easy to get distracted and lose your way.

Related: The value of investing in design systems

A combination of a long-term roadmap alongside regularly scheduled checkins for reflection is needed to make sure you’re staying the course. It’s a marathon, not a (design) sprint.

How can you build your own design system? Learn from the pros in our new, free Design system Video Series featuring Brad Frost, Dan Mall, and Josh Clark.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard