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Set up an organization around the Design System

Thomas Huber

January 13, 2021

8 min of reading


In order to facilitate membership and maintain a Design System, it is necessary to find ways to work in a multidisciplinary manner and thus break down potential organizational silos (Design, Brand, Tech, etc.). This often requires adapting existing ways of working or inventing new ones.

Should we set up a team dedicated to the Design System?

The organization established around the Design System is key to its scalability. Two organizational options are then possible: Decentralized or distributed model: several members of the Product teams are allocated a small part of their time to work on the implementation and supply of the Design System. Centralized model: The Design System is the responsibility of a dedicated team; it is often possible to test a combination of models. Salesforce has, for example, dedicated a central team to the “Lighting” system which relies on contributors distributed throughout the organization. Whatever the organizational model chosen, the roles to be taken on from the start are the following: Designers (Product Designers and specialized profiles), Developers, one or more Product Managers, other asset users (e.g. marketing, communication, etc.), a sponsor supporting the initiative. Design System construction must excel in visual design, interaction design and information architecture. Likewise, Developers must have a strong appetite for front-end development. It may be relevant to appoint a person in charge of the Design System, conductor of its creation and maintenance, who will know how to evangelize on his interest within the organization. Beyond the allocation of resources dedicated to the Design System, the establishment of clear governance is essential to ensure that the system can adapt to changes. So, you have to start by answering some questions about how to manage changes: who validates the changes made to the system? How are requests for new components handled? What happens when bugs or regressions are detected?

How to encourage team engagement?

More important than its construction, the key to the success of a Design System lies in the team's ability to encourage stakeholders to use it. Depending on the size of the company, it is difficult to encourage people to adopt one and it will only be adopted if it is deemed useful. necessary to:

  • Carry out a vision and establish strong and shared experience principles
  • Obtain the support of managers to finance ie dedicate capacity to the system over time
  • Demonstrate the value of the system through a test environment so that users can test it and make it their own
  • Obtaining this feedback remains a good way to better understand their needs, identify possible problems and improve the system
  • Evaluate how internal users are using the system through regular interviews, observations and questionnaires

The role of communication

Communication also plays a key role in the uptake of the system. In particular, we recommend that you:

  • Promote the system internally through workshops, presentations or even a dedicated collaborative platform
  • Create and share a nomenclature for the naming of Design System components
  • Use collaborative communication tools including Developers (e.g .: a dedicated Slack channel) to share changes and maintain the engagement of users and system designers
  • Organize formal points between the Design System team, users and stakeholders to discuss what works or needs to be improved

This will also make it possible to establish priorities and create a release plan of the Design System so that it always better meets the needs of the company. Share the success of the Design System widely by being factual i.e. by using metrics.

How to measure the success of a design system

As you will have understood, beyond a set of reference graphic components, a Design System takes on a whole new dimension if other types of documentation are more widely integrated (Brand assets, Design principles, etc. ). In its exhaustive version, it then becomes a valuable internal communication tool standardizing the language of your company. Also keep in mind that to get the maximum value from your Design System, you must consider it as a Product in its own right. Only by allocating resources, communicating the benefits, measuring its impact and continually seeking to improve it will you ensure its usefulness and full adoption by your teams.

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