Guide #011: How to encourage your organization to build and adopt a design system

Treat your design system like an internal product. Appoint a point person who can act as the product owner and primary evangelist.

Establish the core team that will build your design system

Treat your design system like an internal product and identify a product owner. On a small team, the product owner and designer may be the same person. In the role of product owner, this person will act as the main point of contact as well as the primary evangelizer.

Establish a purpose and principles framework for your design system

Lay the foundation for effective communication of your design system by outlining why it should exist. Leverage the organization’s culture and specific context to give concrete examples of how the design system will achieve a more consistent user experience or a more efficient build process. This will be your key selling points for evangelizing the design system. Also, align on the terminologies that will be used, like what constitutes a “card,” for example.

Name your design system and give it a home on the web

To aid in evangelizing and adoption, give your design system a fun and memorable name that is on brand with your organization. A few examples include Bolt by Pegasystems, Carbon by IBM and Polaris by Shopify. In addition, provide users with an easy-to-remember URL for internal or external accessibility. Recognize that the design system is a living product that will constantly evolve with input from partners/stakeholders including product and brand teams throughout your organization.

Conduct an interface inventory of existing interfaces

Begin the process by identifying which components should be added to your design system through auditing the elements within your digital interfaces. Assign a “Keep,” “Change” or “Trash” tag to each. Group all like elements within Keep and Change and create a priority list for which elements you'd like to address first, second, third, etc.

Create a roadmap for growing your design system

Build on the priority list of components you’d like to keep and change by fleshing out a more overarching roadmap for growing your design system. Address the operational sections of your design system by providing a process for submitting requests, training, and communicating changes. Assign monthly or quarterly goals to determine how many components you plan to add within a given period or define adoption goals to show how many teams/products you hope will start using the design system within a given period.

Create a sandbox environment for testing your design system

Starting with a single component, like a button type, conduct tests to ensure the button appears and behaves the same across every interface it appears. Apply changes to the button at the design system level and ensure those changes are propagated to all the locations the button exists. Adjust your code, design assets and naming conventions to achieve consistency. Repeat for each element within your design system.

As you add new elements, document how and when they should be used

There’s one thing worse than no documentation — poor documentation. As you add new components to your design system, capture the “do’s and don’ts” of the component by providing design and technical details such as: what is this component, how should it be used, where should it be used, when should it be used.

Communicate progress on a regular basis

Create internal marketing tools like a newsletter, Lunch and Learns, or white papers to generate awareness and support for your progress. Celebrate and communicate your achievements through these communications channels. Even small achievements like “we added three new components” should be worthy of celebration.

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