The Industrialization of Product Design

almost 4 years ago from , Product Designer

Design Systems have done a lot to mature the practice of digital product design. The merits of building systems are clear. But the proliferation of design systems surfaces the fear that we'll no longer be designing thoughtful experiences but simply connecting predesigned blocks of content and applying preset behaviors that may or may not be appropriate to the solve the problem at hand. Is this something that you're thinking about?


  • Miles ReiterMiles Reiter, almost 4 years ago

    I see Design Systems as guidelines that simply help mock things up faster, and aid in keeping consistency across a product. In just about everything I've designed, I've found a need to branch out from design system guidelines. Add on to them, tweak them, etc...

    9 points
    • Dan Maglasang, almost 4 years ago

      This is a conversation we're currently having in our org. @miles, when branching out or deviating away from current guidelines, what kinds of rules/principles do you apply to make that decision? From a teaming perspective, it seems difficult to know and defend when to make a decision to deviate if there isn't a set of rules/principles on when and how to deviate from current design system guidelines.

      1 point
      • Miles ReiterMiles Reiter, almost 4 years ago

        That's a really good question. First off I'd like to preface this with the disclaimer that I'm working as a UX team of one. I do have processes that involve quite a bit of self-critique and require defending design decisions to myself before moving forward in any way. Mileage may vary when applying any of it to an actual team with, you know, other people on it.

        Basically, I see the general concept of a design system as needing to be framed as just another part of a designer's toolbox. There are a ton of different research and design techniques that are a part of a good designer's toolbox. Being effective is all about knowing what tool or tools to use at any given time. Which processes to apply to what situations under whatever other circumstances you're facing.

        Design Systems are an extension of this same idea. They're another one of our tools and another part of our process. They're about making it easier to maintain consistency and shared assets that make it easier and faster to visualize our designs. They're not really about being an unchanging list of design commandments.

        When we design things, there's almost always more to iterate on, more to improve and fine tune. Design systems are again the same in respect to that. They're great at speeding things up and keeping things consistent, but I don't know that they should affect the process of determining new solutions to things all that much.

        I see them as fitting in more like this: 1. Determine the best solution to the problem 2. Use your design system as much as possible to reconcile it with your existing product. 3. If your solution requires components not in your design system, does it have any that do the job just as well? 4. If it doesn't, maybe you should design one and make an addition to the system. 5. Have you discovered better ways to do anything that aren't represented by your design system during the above process? Maybe it should be amended accordingly.

        You see Google doing this kind of stuff all the time with Material Design, especially because they're so big on A/B testing wildly experimental new things out in the wild (subject for a different day). The idea being though, to primarily focus on designing the best solution rather than adhering to your existing design system. Sometimes that will involve being able to implement nothing but components that already exist in your system, sometimes that will involve tweaking existing ones, or designing new ones entirely.

        I probably said all that in many more words than I needed to, but it proved to be pretty fun to verbalize what was previously just a bunch of fairly nebulous ideas floating around my head.

        What are you and your team's thoughts on all that?

        5 points
  • Andrew ZimmermanAndrew Zimmerman, almost 4 years ago

    Given the level of digital sophistication and UX maturity at my employer, I can only dream of this as a problem.

    6 points
  • Darrell HanleyDarrell Hanley, almost 4 years ago

    Not really, I think really granular design systems, ones that are atomic in nature and set standard sizes, breakpoint changes, and interaction effects/standards helps free designers from having to proactively guard against inconsistencies, and focus on bigger picture concerns.

    It also makes implementation a breeze and expandability of a service that much easier. Just having consistent type styles and a strict baseline grid system helps cut down on production time and keeps dev output closer to comps.

    6 points
  • Paul ArmstrongPaul Armstrong, almost 4 years ago

    Constantly. As someone who has been doing this for over 2 decades, I have witnessed the shift toward systems and processes. There is nothing inherently wrong with those. Design fits nicely with them (because design is defining and organizing systems of information).

    I don't fault systems. Systems are benign. A tool without a hand is not a tool. But a system without logic, without purpose, without testing or research, isn't design, it's at best engineering, and at worst lazy trend-chasing.

    3 points
  • Ian GoodeIan Goode, almost 4 years ago

    But the proliferation of design systems surfaces the fear that we'll no longer be designing thoughtful experiences but simply connecting predesigned blocks of content and applying preset behaviors that may or may not be appropriate to the solve the problem at hand.

    I think in some work environments this is a risk, but then those environments were likely doing that before anyway. Only difference is it's now somewhat more visible and formalised.

    The value in design systems for designers as I see it is that it actually frees you up from constantly re-inventing the wheel and it streamlines decisions made at the production end of things. Ideally, that then translates to more time and brainpower put towards the earlier problem-solving side of things.

    Like any tool or system, you gotta use it consciously and deliberately!

    2 points
  • Mitch Malone, almost 4 years ago

    If your understanding and application of product design is only surface-level interface design, then maybe be worried about this trend. If your design practice includes defining and understanding user goals, activities, behaviors, intent, etc, then no.

    1 point
  • Finlay CraigFinlay Craig, almost 4 years ago

    The Design Systems real value is in elevating a Product Designers thinking away from the final execution, and more into working hard to solve the real user problem.

    This is particularly true when you have larger design teams where designers need to function autonomously but still contribute towards the same product. As teams grow, so do stakeholders, so a solid design system helps fend off many awkward disagreements on execution, and brings the conversation back to problem solving.

    Building, maintain, and most importantly, maturing a design system is a real challenge for any Product Designer.

    1 point