Design Systems Are An Investment

It's hard to put a value on a design system. It's a lot easier to add up the costs of said design system, especially in terms of salaries and development time. It's even easier to target a design system as the thing that's holding up a product from getting delivered.

The truth is, design systems aren't made to slow you down or piss you off, they're made to make you more productive. What a lot of organizations fail to understand is that the initial investment pays dividends later on. Well-designed components, patterns, and guidelines take time. But they always result in better products.

Your design system shouldn't be a target. It should be a beacon.

But design system teams are usually siloed. They tend to live higher up in the org chart because they make decisions that affect every product underneath them. They're often so segmented from the rest of the organization that they become barriers to their own users.

I used to think that design system teams were special and that they needed to live up there, but I don't think that's necessarily true anymore. Yes, you need support from management, but you can't rule from the top down with an iron fist. It must be a team effort. Respect has to be mutual for everything to work.

Break down the barricades, the fences, and the walls. Make your design system team accessible to their consumers. Fund them properly so they have the resources to meet the objectives you've set for them. Educate consumers so they understand the benefits, the expectations, and the workflows that will make collaboration with your design system team a success.

I know it's easy to blame the design system for holding things up. Everyone loves a scapegoat. But don't let today's needs interfere with tomorrow's progress. Understand what it means to invest. Understand the importance of working together to break out of impasses.

And design system teams — offer some grace to your consumers. You're job is to create guidelines, not to enforce them religiously. When consumers color outside the lines, your first instinct shouldn't be to strike them down, but to understand why and facilitate their needs in a way that benefits everyone moving forward.

No, you won't see an immediate payoff from any of this. But anyone who's played this game long enough knows that a quick win today isn't nearly as a good as an investment that pays dividends for years to come.

If it's unclear what that means, investing in your design system now will mean more consistency, more productivity, improved code quality, less bugs, less maintenance burdens, and happier teams.

In the words of Peter Lynch: "Know what you own, and why you own it."