Now available for pre-order: Managing Priorities by Harry Max

Pain and Curiosity Precede Successful Design Systems Change with Dan Mall

While we’ve been developing design systems for years, we’re only just now learning how to create systems that are successful and sustainable. Dan Mall is the author of the soon-to-be released Design That Scales: Creating a Sustainable Design System Practice, which explores the cultural elements that contribute to sustainable design systems.  

Not surprisingly, it’s usually pain that motivates change. In fact, companies occupying the number one spot in their respective markets usually have the least incentive  to change. As the saying goes, “Number two tries harder.” But even in the most-ready-for-change scenarios, design systems sit, at best, at a third level of priority. Dan asserts that the challenge is to approach design systems as a byproduct of the products and features that bring customers value. Otherwise, design systems will always be on the backburner. 

Dan and Lou discuss tricky topics around design systems:

  • Designers’ fear of job loss to design systems.
  • As we move toward sustainable design systems, who should make the decisions? Who does what and when? 
  • How to approach design systems in a sustainable way.
  • The best way for product and systems teams to collaborate.


What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Why culture, rather than product maturity, will determine whether design systems are successful
  • How to address fears of job loss as a result of design systems
  • How to keep people motivated through a systems change
  • How product and design teams can work together efficiently
  • How design systems have changed over time
  • The role of governance in systems change
  • Why following precedent within your company will get you farther faster


Quick Reference Guide

[0:00:32] Introduction of Dan Mall and his book Design that Scales – Creating a Sustainable Design System Practice

[0:04:49] On reaching cultural alignment

[0:07:01] What prompts design systems change 

[0:09:26] When jobs feel threatened

[0:12:21] Cultural signs and markers of design system success 

[0:16:59] November 29th, 2023 – Design in Product Conference

[0:18:20] On governance and sustainability

[0:24:44] On collaboration between product and design teams

[0:27:33] The evolution of design systems for ICs

[0:30:35] Design Systems University

[0:32:38] Dan’s gift to listeners


Resources and links from today’s episode:

Design in Product Conference on November 29, 2023

Design Systems University 

The Useful School