Pitfall #1: a design systems constrains the designer
Since the design system defines what you can do and how you should do it, the space of possible solutions is constrained. By extension, your creativity as a designer is constrained — if you go with the design system way of doing things, other solutions may be overlooked.
- You might argue that constraints actually increase your creativity. The research is there to back it up (see end notes for some specific references). Just remember to avoid pitfall #2
- This is only a problem if your design system is inflexible / static — which it should not be. So a solution would be: as long as you have an open dialogue in your organisation, and you can push for changes to update the design system: no problem
Pitfall #2: Design systems do not prompt exploration, reflection or divergence
Creating a new design is fast and easy when using a design system. It only takes a short amount of time before you have something that looks very polished. The problem inherent here: your design artefacts will not invite exploration, iteration or comments if they look too polished. Quite simply put, there is a risk that you will become biased towards making decisions about your design very quickly, because it is the path of least resistance.
“Convergence bias” — the tendency to go into decision-making mode instead of exploring options
Understanding process, and understanding strengths / weaknesses of methods and tools will take you a long way. As long as you know design process and understand where you are in the process — when it’s time to diverge and generate options, and when it’s time to converge and make decisions — you’ll be fine. A great tool for generating options before diving in to high fidelity design is (of course) sketching.
Pitfall #3: Design systems are a set of rules, which tend to become inflexible
We use systems to harness and make sense of complexity — so systems are necessary and good. But we should also understand that “ways of harnessing complexity” will become routine, and routine has a way of not being questioned. We all know examples of this from our working lives, I’m sure… those year-old or even decade-old decisions that are still affecting things. This can also happen to your design system, in which case it could be more accurately described as a design bureaucracy.
- Communication in the team
- Regular review / design critique of the design system itself
- UX research within your team — practice what you preach, apply your own methods to yourself, and understand how designers are using the design system, and in which context.
- An understanding that tools and shared resources in your design team are dynamic