The Design System Rollercoaster: From Enabler and Bottleneck to Catalyst for Change

Design systems have become an integral part of product-driven organisations, promising consistency, efficiency, and improved collaboration.

Amidst the success stories, there are risks, challenges, and failures bound to accompany their implementation and adoption. Why do some design organisations thrive despite it, and others fail miserably?

Because of the pandemic of productisation, strategic product decisions are driven by product managers who want to build fast and break things, and user advocates are cut off from discovery, becoming mere feature producers who pass on unvalidated requirements to the design system. Designers working on the product side claim that the design system hinders their creative process and stifles innovation, when it should enable it, while the design system team prides itself on setting standards of excellence that has become a purpose on its’ own. The pace at which the design system can deliver upon product requirements often leads to it being perceived as a bottleneck by both designers and product managers, and testing their outputs with end users is a no man’s land. So what is the true role of design systems? How can we use them to drive change?

Embarking on a design systems journey is a rollercoaster ride for the entire organisation, not to mention the team that runs it. The success of a design system will depend on many factors beyond the UI inventory or tech stack — they will manifest themselves differently in each organisation, by amplifying communication and collaboration patterns for better or worse.

As an experienced design systems leader, I will share practical insights from my own journey, wins and mistakes, on how to manage design systems that add tangible value to the organisation and initiate positive and transformative changes in our approach to collaboration, design, development and UX. I will share how we can use design systems to drive meaningful conversations, build bridges and create new paradigms.