I want to know the reasons why design systems fail and want to know how they can be made to work in case if they have already been failed.

1 Answer 1


Before answering you question. I would like you to understand what a design system is.

enter image description here A design system is typically a storehouse of the aesthetics of any application. It consists of a visual pattern library, sketch library, component library that houses codes, usage guidelines for codes, guidelines for voice and tone, guidelines on how to use a design and animation language guidelines. Design systems are an efficient way of design-driven development. And for that to succeed it requires teamwork.

Here’s taking a look at why a design system fails and how to make them work:

  1. Rework: Every system after a given time needs to be refurbished. The same is the case with a design system. Over a while, the components may become useless because of technological developments. They may fit the design but it won’t add any value to the design. And the only way to resolve that is by revisiting or revamping these redundant components. Redesigning should be prioritized. The components picked should not only fit the design but should also be flexible to accommodate the tech changes.

  2. Synchronization: We live in a world where technology is evolving every other minute. So is the case with design systems as well. Even before the implementation of the components, things are likely to evolve in the front end. If the front end tech doesn’t match with the back end components, the design is sure to the tank. And that’s why timely synchronization of front end and back end is important to make sure that a design system succeeds.

  3. Maintenance: Any product is likely to work if it is given timely maintenance. It is difficult to maintain the style guide after the product is launched and the initial excitement dies down. The process becomes less fun and perhaps, that’s why it gets neglected. But maintenance is an after-sale service for every application. Timely reviewing the apps will help keep up the design system.

  4. Teamwork and coordination: Any product is a by-product of teamwork. For a design system to function well, it needs as much external backing as it needs internal support. By external support system we mean, the support of top and bottom echelons of any organization. Teamwork and coordination become a priority in an organization where there are old and crusty codebases still in use. So having clear communication between the teams and implementing changes after approval of every team member is key to a successful design system.

  5. A dedicated team: For a design system to function well, one needs to put in place a dedicated team that will ensure its smooth functioning. A design system needs to be kept a check on; it needs absolute investment and efforts of a team that will look after its functionalities. If you neglect to keep updating the components of a design system, it is sure to fail. So the only solution to this is to watch out for the design system with an eye of a hawk. And that is possible only when there is a team dedicatedly looking after this work.

  6. Shared responsibility: When we mentioned a dedicated team we also meant shared responsibilities. With a team in place that will solely take care of a design system, one can delegate the responsibilities. This team can comprise engineers or designers or can be composed of both – designers and engineers. Their responsibilities will be shared such as lending support by helping others to set up on the design system, development of the design system, consistently creating a rollout plan and upgrading the system – overall product management. Sharing responsibilities will ensure less workload on one or two people and will thus guarantee the smooth functioning of the design system.

  7. Communication: What makes any system lose its charm is the lack of teamwork or coordination. And for teamwork to happen one has to dedicatedly bridge the communication gap. It is likely to arise a difference in opinions between designers and engineers. Quelling these recurring differences is essential to the maintenance of a design system. It can be thoroughly challenging to arrive at a final decision because there are most likely to be a few hits and misses, but the sole focus should be the design system and how to make it function better. When the team arrives at a unanimous decision, one can be assured of the success of the design system.

  8. User testing: If you wish to know how well your design system is functioning and what changes can be made to it, you have to put in place User testing. The timely feedback from the users will guide you to make the necessary changes in the system. For instance, if after user testing you get feedback that the color scheme of the design isn’t attractive, and if you fail to implement that then you also fail to make sure that the users of the app are attracted to it and are kept engaged on it. User testing ensures that your design system is upgrading timely and that leaves fewer chances for failure.

  9. Design: We have discussed multiple facets here that will make your design system solid but one of the most important and key elements is the design itself. The architecture of your system needs to be solid from the word go. It should be flexible and futuristic. The design system in place must have room for customization and subsequent growth with the changing market trends. A solid architecture can be achieved with namespacing and semantic versioning. What is namespacing? It is a systematic organization of the codes into different groups to prevent collisions of names. What is semantic versioning? Semantic Versioning or SemVer is a universal way to version the software development. It ensures that every transition is kept a tab on and it does a better job of clarifying tech upgrades that have taken place or are likely to take place. SemVer makes things clear and meaningful for the team.

  10. Reduce friction: Consumers are less likely to use a design system if it becomes outdated or if there is continuous friction in its functionality. For this, one has to make sure that the system has less friction by lowering the cognitive overhead of development and by making your design of least resistance. If the design is over-engineered and complicated the users are less likely to come back to the application. Because a user is only going to keep in mind the smooth functioning of any app. A user is no expert in technicalities that go into making an app/design system. Hence, it is notable that the team works on reducing friction in the system which will make sure that the users come back to the app.

To sum up, a product is persistently upgrading itself and in such cases to have a design system in place is beneficial to the product.

a. One has to start with the basics and approach the design first. Basing the design system on a solid architecture should be the key priority of the designers and engineers.

b. The designers and engineers need to work hand-in-hand and the communication gap needs to be reduced by avoiding miscommunication at every step of the way.

c. The design system, every component of it, has to have approval from the echelons of the organization.

d. As also, one has to keep in mind the synchronization of the front end and the backend. The slightest tech development can make the whole design system come tumbling down like a house of cards.

e. And to make sure that your design system doesn’t fail one has to work by keeping the user experience in mind.

f. Every system requires rework and that should be kept in mind when you want a design system. Timely revamping the system will ensure that it is not outdated.

g. Lastly, the design system for smooth functioning needs to have a dedicated team that will delegate responsibilities and keeps a check on the design components, making sure that they are updated from time to time.

  • I strongly advise against hijacking the term backend/"back end" and using it in this way.
    – straya
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 5:19

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