Pitfall #1: a systems constrains the designer

Since the design 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.

Two points:

  1. 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
  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

Solution

Understanding process, and understanding strengths / 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.

Solution:

  • 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



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