5 key design system elements to build trust and maximise uptake

Since 2016 I’ve used, created and contributed to multiple design systems.

I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. By “doesn’t” I mean designers don’t trust it. And as a result they don’t use it.

When I’m feeling sassy, I call these people ‘cowboy designers’.

Now there are some designers that will ignore your design system no matter how good it is.

These people are true cowboys and they wear the hats 🤠. But most designers would prefer to use tried and tested patterns. As long as they can trust them.

And I’ve found that there are 5 key elements a design system needs to have in order to make it so good that designers choose it over doing their own thing.

Here they are:

Key element #1: research findings and rationale

Designers need to know they can trust a pattern.

If a pattern is included without research, it diminishes trust. If your component hasn’t been tested, be honest about it. Provide rationale so users can fill the gaps when they’re testing it with their users.

Transparency builds trust.

Key element #2: usage guidance

Patterns without guidance result in misuse.

The perfect component deployed in the wrong situation is bad. Users need to know exactly when a pattern is appropriate to use. And crucially when it’s not.

Context is key.

Key element #3: working code

Pictures of components are not components.

A Figma file is valuable. But without code, components need to be built from scratch. And mistakes will be made in translation.

Design is done when it’s actually in front of users.

Key element #4: feedback channels

Without a way to feedback, designers feel isolated.

Most designers don’t need an excuse to go off-piste and do their own thing. But making it easy to feedback makes people feel part of the design system community.

It’s not a community without 2-way communication.

Key element #5: support channels

A design system without support is a side project.

No matter how clear your content is, you can’t cater for everyone all the time. Without an easy way to get support, users will get stuck. And when they do, they need someone to unstick them.

Treat your design system like the service it is.