The 4 biggest challenges when implementing a design system

The pace of communication is accelerating, collaborative working knows no boundaries anymore and product development lifecycles have never been shorter. With all this digital momentum, businesses are gearing up to enrich and continually improve customer experiences across all digital channels. And that means your digital assets are expanding -fast! There’s a big chance you may need to implement a design system.

A design system helps you make sense of all that digital noise. With a single source of truth for your brand style guide, component and pattern library, and design guidelines as well as tools, your team can create, use and reuse UI assets and code snippets. In fact, everything related to your brand or product design is readily accessible. They’ll have confidence it will all work, and everything will be on brand.

But choosing and implementing a design system can take time. And while your design system will benefit your design and development teams, as well as ensuring consistency in your online identity, you may face some obstacles along the way. That’s why we’re covering off some of the biggest challenges to prepare for, and what you can do to tackle them.

1.    Everyone’s too busy to make time for a project this big

Usually the teams that would benefit the most from a design system, streamlined communication and assets, are the busiest within your business. This means, they really need the support of a good design system, but they’re also the ones that don’t have the time to get around to it. It's a vicious circle. Customer-facing work takes priority and before you know it you just end up chasing your deadlines. 

When you divert efforts into a design system and don’t treat it as a side project, wonderful things begin to happen. Sure, it may mean that other projects get put on the back burner for a short while, but it also means that when they come back on stream, you’ll be far more effective, faster and importantly, in control.

If you try to redistribute work or free up time, but it’s just not happening, you do have other options. Consider collaborating with an external design system specialist, like Youwe, or hire a specialist or temporary contractor in-house to get you up and running.

Invest the effort properly. Spend the time, spend the money - you won’t regret your efforts.

2.    You can’t identify the ROI

You may find it tricky to demonstrate the commercial value that a design system will bring to your company. There’s a lot of upfront work needed to make it happen. The necessary research and planning will put demands on multiple teams from across the business, with no immediate return on investment. 

You need to make sure the senior stakeholders are aware of the value a design system will deliver over the long term; all those hours of design and development that will be saved, and all those projects that will be delivered ahead of time! Once you have a design system in place, it will pay dividends for many years to come.

3.    Too much focus on the component library

When your design system project gets underway, it’s very easy to hone in on the component library. Almost to the exclusion of everything else. Although the component library is a fundamental building block of your design system, there’s so much more to think about. 

Look beyond the reusable UI elements, visual examples of components, descriptors and code snippets. Think about implementation guidelines and design principles. Consider page layouts, content structures and design rationale.

Your design system also needs to be integrated with the components that it supports. You’ll want to be able to make a single update to the design system and have this propagate across your products. Without this functionality, components will get missed and products will break.

4.    It’s not a fire-and-forget project

Design systems evolve. They change as your brand develops and as technology progresses. Design systems also need to be used properly, which means training is required too. It’s easy to think that your design system is completed, but it should always change and be in a state of flux. It cannot be left to its own devices, as it will begin to lose its value.

Make sure you have processes and procedures in place to maintain the relevance of your design system. Appoint design system liaisons in key teams, and make sure you schedule regular meetings to discuss updates. Once your design system is hard-wired into your regular round of team meetings and discussions, it’s going to serve you well, and far into the future.

Push through the challenges

Once implemented, your design system will free up your designers and developers, and improve the consistency of your brand across all your digital assets. It’s a powerful tool to have at your disposal. But you need to get buy-in, and you need to get your system right. It’s a continuous process, and it’s going to need some fine-tuning along the way. 

Now you know about some of the biggest challenges that you’re likely to face along the way, you can plan accordingly. If you want to learn a little more about design systems, then we’ve got just the solution for you. Take a look at our new free guide, Design Systems and the New Digital Frontier, and smooth your route to digital transformation

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