Setting up a design system is a process that takes time. Creating a shared learning resource is not enough: it will have no impact unless adopted by creators and implemented in actual, user-facing products. This in turn impacts the development roadmaps and technical set-up of your products.
At the same time, the system is going to be interpreted, questioned, and driven by people. Some content and processes will stand the test of time; others will need to be evolved. The lesson to be learned here? Think in milestones and evolution stages rather than ending dates. Treat your design system as a product of its own.
2. The environment that a design system ultimately serves will change over time
Technologies, markets, contexts of use, and customers do change. Your design system will have to keep up with a shifting definition of ‘what works best’.
Ideally, a design system will free up time from re-creating and updating recurring elements by establishing a shared, cross-disciplinary language and more efficient asset distribution channels. If product teams can use this freed up time on testing and learning, then more validated, real-world, outside-in impressions and evaluations will start to trickle in. This should lead to a constant loop (OK, more or less a structured chaos) of feedback that will drive changes to the design system’s content.
3. The organization that creates a design system is not the same that will be using it
The success of a design system depends on how well the related, new, internal processes stick. The existing culture, ways of working, and skill sets at hand might provide a more or less fertile ground for this.
It’s unlikely however that a design system is the only change initiative around. In fact, the more recognized the need for a design system is in an organization, the bigger pressure there might be for overall change: it might be that teams are hitting a limit on what they can deliver with the current processes, the company might be growing rapidly, there might be a pressing need to ‘clean up’ a product after such a spell, or to implement some fundamental change in the way these product(s) operate. If so, it is important to check-in with the various other initiatives, to keep individuals and teams comfortable with the on-going changes, and to pace design system updates and process iterations to a reasonable level. Probably easier said than done, but where would be the fun if not in evolving and learning?