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The Design System Between Us

Design systems by default entrench existing workflows rather than changing them.

But in my experience, design systems haven’t brought this kind of rich, cross-functional collaboration to most organizations. Instead, the existing divisions between design and implementation have become entrenched, and massively so.

Marcotte has observed that design systems solidify, codify, and reinforce existing divisions between the silos of ‘engineering’ and ‘designing’. He identifies that there has not been any tooling that’s emerged to work in the space between designing and developing, and our tools today are still one-or-the-other. Marcotte also references others like Tom MacWright and Tim Kadlec in identifying that the contemporary complexity and weight of the front end makes it harder for designers to be integrated into those systems.

Marcotte also suggests that a metric for design system health can be found in identifying the process of a designer changing production css: how does that happen? How long does that take? Who is involved?

For many organizations, the technical barriers to cross-functional collaboration can be unacceptably high … More often than not, your design system becomes a mirror of the way your team already works

Marcotte calls out the importance of a design system is in articulating how a team works, and that the relationship between designing and developing is one of the core relationships that a design system has to contend with.