Five principles for design system management

24 Jan 2024

Here are 5 principles of product management that are useful for design systems teams big and small:

Always have a plan… and be willing to throw it away

Design Systems can easily devolve into putting out fires all day long, leaving little room for long term platform growth.

It’s important to carve out time to strategize about the future of your infrastructure and ensure you have a strong long-term vision, so you can shift with speed when new tech arrives (like AI). But don’t get too attached. 90% of the time the plan will change. So be flexible and change with it.

Walk the tightrope of speed and durability

Your design system won’t be able to solve all ecosystem needs in the moment.

Sometimes teams need to move forward and can’t wait on the design system. If that’s the case, ensure there’s proper governance and checkpoints in place. And create a plan to resolve tech and design debt acquired.

But be careful, too much of this and the debt will become insurmountable.

Embrace customer centricity

Developer and designer productivity is your #1 metric to influence.

Never forget that the purpose of the design system is to enhance designer and developer effectiveness.

Design systems should make your devs and designers faster. It should propel innovation. It should remove low-level decision making (should it be this color or that? should it go at the top or the bottom), and put the focus on customer innovation.

Have a bold north star

Be ambitious about how you’d like to transform the organizations experience of building products.

For example, “Devs and designers should be able to scaffold a production-ready product page within 5 minutes using the design system.”

Bold goals focus on the customer and an extreme value add.

Embrace operational excellence

Design Systems are naturally VERY messy. It’s easy for work to get stuck in indecision or lack a single-threaded owner.

Align your team on the most important goals, cultivate a culture of extreme ownership, and then establish the minimal amount of process necessary for maximum impact.

Source:The most useful skill I've acquired is product