Design systems will only work if we improve the way we work together

Last Tuesday I attended InVision’s Design Systems workshop with Brad Frost, where he went through the steps of creation, delivery and maintenance of a design system. It was exciting to be surrounded by 100+ fellow designers and developers looking to create better modular systems that simplify how we deliver products. People are keen to improve things as there are still a lot of friction to remove in how we work.

It’s surprising and disheartening to see that in 2018 we’re still struggling to deliver products in an efficient manner, and I believe the separation of design and development is responsible for a lot of wasted efforts. 

I don't know you, but I hate wasting my clients' money.

When Brad asked the audience whether we had ever been involved in a project that we were embarrassed to put in our portfolio, almost the entire room raised the hand. Too much effort is spent on prettifying deliverables and comps, not enough in ensuring those concepts are feasible, Dribbble is an example of our love for art, not design.

And there was again the question about should designers learn to code, nicely answered by Brad (hint: you need to know enough about the medium you are designing for) but that is very telling of the situation we're in. Designers that look for aesthetics, often do the right research to understand the problem space, but often fail to be close enough to the production aspect of the product. Imagine an industrial designer not knowing about the materials or processes needed to produce the objects, unthinkable. 

Yet we see that time and time again on digital design. Designers claiming to have a design system which is just a sketch library. Companies separating their design and development efforts (e.g. hire and design agency and then give the outputs to a development shop). Developers that believe that the only purpose of a designer is to make things logical and pretty. 

We need teams that have enough understanding and empathy for each other's work, that value working together instead of complaining about the other side of the silo. And yes that means designers knowing enough about how their medium works as that will only improve the conversation and lead to better quality and less frustration. 

And that movement needs to start from the leadership, having people that are driven to close that gap and make teams work together as one, helping them to understand each other and solve the issues. We can't let this happen any longer.