Warning Signs of a Weak Design System

October 10, 2022

There are numerous roadblocks to design system adoption. While such hiccups are common, they make it hard to achieve consistency and efficiency if they’re not addressed early and often.

Ultimately, this can hinder a product’s overall potential and result in wasted time and money. Here are 3 warning signs your design system could be in danger—and why these situations happen.

1. Poorly Communicated Vision

Understanding the value of a design system is key to making it last. However, it’s common for an organization to be conflicted on why a design system actually matters. For example, a design leader might see the value of a design system differently than an organization’s executives, which weakens the overall case for effective implementation.

Design system champions need to effectively communicate the how and the why of a design system, both for the creators and for the end user. For the how, defining the scope, underlying tech stack, roadmap for evolution, governance strategy, key benefits, alignment to larger organizational objectives, and even ROI can be contained in a simple ‘design system brief.’ For the why, taking the time to clearly define and articulate a value proposition is a worthwhile investment (for more on the importance of the value proposition see #4 below). 

How does the design system relieve pain, create gains, and satisfy ‘jobs to be done’ for both internal stakeholders and customers? When an organization fundamentally understands both how and why a design system improves experiences for all, there’s no question about if, or when, it should be pursued.

2. Lack of Executive Sponsorship.

The challenge of communication is amplified by the fact that development teams are often overloaded with incoming feature needs. As a result, they’re more worried about cramming as much into the funnel as possible, rather than working smarter. 

And it’s not their fault. When everyone is asking for a different feature to be done yesterday, adhering to a design system can feel like more work on top of an already overflowing plate. 

Even then, once objectives have been agreed upon and investors are breathing down designers’ and developers’ necks, it’s hard to persuade them to veer off course into a discussion on design systems—regardless of how critical they might be to the long term success of the product.

Organizations also tend to pull their development team’s time in a lot of different directions. This introduces challenges in prioritizing and organizing their work towards the places that produce immediate demonstrable value. 

The most successful design systems not only consider the nuances of these challenges, but are designed to eliminate them. And, if design systems are discussed at the beginning, it’s easier to stay within scope.

3. Unintentional Governance 

A tricky part about design systems is that they’re not always enforced by the person or team who creates them. On one hand, a leader or external consultant may be tasked with implementing a system across an enterprise. In contrast, a designer or developer may assume it’s their responsibility, but feel overwhelmed by the task. 

In general, teams may want, or expect, other teams to take the lead on implementation. In this case, they require an experienced design system leader who can advocate for the importance of co-ownership, where multiple teams share in the responsibility of company-wide implementation.

How to Succeed with a Design System

Design system implementation and creation requires a dedicated expert in the field. To find out more essential warning signs of a weak design system, contact us to access the entire free design system guide. We can work together to ensure your design system drives adoption and ROI.

To get in touch, drop us a line here.