Governing Your Design System: The Continuous Challenge

If done right, digital products evolve naturally, leading to increased complexity in design and development work. A typical scenario is that products grow in complexity, expand into product families with shared UI needs, or appear across multiple platforms with a demand for consistent brand recognition. This growing complexity often gives rise to the need for a design system, driven by the necessity for consistency and a more streamlined workflow.

design system challenge illustrationDesigners grow weary of repeatedly creating the same iterations of components in Figma, and developers start to look for ways to speed up their work.

The problem is evident, and so is the solution: they need a Design System. At this point, everything is fine. However, managers often make the mistake of misinterpreting the situation and believe that creating a Design System is a one-time effort by the product design team. However, none of this is true.

It’s not necessarily the product design team who will do this, right?

Product design teams, focused on overseeing and developing the product itself, face challenges in simultaneously maintaining the design system. While the initiative often begins with the product teams, the ongoing task can become a hurdle alongside their primary job. It becomes quickly evident that this is a job that requires constant oversight and maintenance. 

No wonder that major companies have recognized this challenge and started treating design systems as products, assigning dedicated teams and resources for their development. However, it’s not just the need for constant oversight that can cause issues; the job also demands personalities slightly different from what you would expect from a traditional product designer.

Design systems require a different mindset than traditional design

Not all designers possess the same strengths or inclinations, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Some enjoy problem-solving and thinking about new features, while others prefer pushing pixels and creating new components in Figma. Although both traits are necessary for design systems, this role requires a different mindset. It demands system thinking for proper naming conventions, design token structures, and more. Additionally, it requires an understanding of the design system’s purpose as a holistic repository for developers and a reference point for designers. This also involves effective communication and collaboration with cross-functional teams.

No wonder that in recent years, the role of design system management has evolved into a brand new profession. Designers or developers who find this type of work attractive and fitting to their personality often pivot to roles such as Design System Consultants, Managers, or Developers.

Is hiring a contractor a good idea for this task?

If you believe someone in your existing team can handle this responsibility, the best course of action may be to promote them to this new role, allowing them to focus on it full-time. However, an outsider’s perspective can serve as a catalyst for informed decisions, propelling the design system toward success

UX studio offers a consultancy service tailored to assist teams in navigating the complexities of design systems. We believe this type of collaboration can be fruitful for organizations facing such challenges. Our approach is to develop a sustainable system specifically tailored to each organization. For more information, you can read about our service here.

In conclusion, navigating design system complexities requires strategic delegation and a distinctive mindset. Embracing these principles ensures seamless product evolution and efficiency in design and development workflows. If you are struggling with this, make sure to dedicate a person or team to this task or hire someone to help you with it.

Is there anything we can do for you at this moment? Get in touch with us, and let’s discuss your current challenges.