Design Systems

The 6 things every design systems pilot project needs to be successful

4 min read
Sean Blanda
  •  Dec 20, 2018
Link copied to clipboard

Before a television network orders episodes of a new show, they ask for a single episode test: a pilot. It’s a means of experimenting with a very complex idea without too much commitment.

A design system isn’t quite the first episode of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but it’s close. When proposing to remake the entire workflow of your design team and wider organization, you’re likely to meet some resistance—so prove it first by borrowing a page from our friends in show business and launching a pilot program with your new design system.

You don’t need to get the design system 100% complete on your first go around, but you do need a manageable project that will get your colleagues to sit up and take notice. In our latest episode of the Design Systems Video Series (watch it here), design leaders Dan Mall, Brad Frost, and Josh Clark share what they ask when choosing a good starter project:

“If you need your dev team to build something fresh, your project is going to take a long time. Apologies to our developer friends.”

Sean Blanda
Twitter Logo
  1. How much of this project can be commonly used? Think of headers and footers: the stuff that will be used throughout your company.
  2. Does the project use highly-valued components or patterns? If a project isn’t commonly used, at least make sure where it is used delivers a lot of value. Think of items like a date picker that can be a pain to design, but will make a huge difference once a standard component is agreed on.
  3. Is this project technically feasible? If you need your dev team to build something fresh, your project is going to take a long time. Apologies to our developer friends.
  4. Do you have an available champion? A good pilot project has someone (who isn’t you) that will evangelize the success of using the system to the organization.
  5. Can you do this in a couple of weeks? Not months. Weeks.
  6. Does this project have marketing potential? “That might be the most visible project at your company, that might be something where the CEO’s pet project,” says Mall.

Still don’t know where to start? Stand up a style guide as your scaffolding. You can download a sample one in Design System Manager here if you’d like a head start.

And be sure to watch all episodes of the Design Systems Video Series here and read everything we’ve ever written about design systems here.


Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard