6 Challenges of Scaling a Design System – Why Most Organisations Fail

Design Systems
3 Minute Read
Design systems have become necessary for organisations to maintain consistency, efficiency, and user-centricity across their digital products. However, when it comes to scaling a design system to meet the needs of a growing organisation, many teams need help to overcome significant challenges that can lead to failure. In this blog post, we will explore six common challenges of scaling a design system and provide tips on overcoming them.
1. Multiple incomplete component libraries are considered a complete design system.

One of the most prominent pitfalls organisations face is the creation of multiple incomplete component libraries, which are often mistaken for a complete design system. Instead of scattered component libraries, focus on developing a narrow, specific global version for a single brand and product. Iterate quickly by shipping the design system into actual products, allowing it to evolve based on user feedback and needs. Establish end-to-end processes before distributing the system to local teams, ensuring seamless integration with other products, brands, or unique use cases.

2. An outdated design system that addresses only a limited set of use cases

Design systems should not be built to last indefinitely but should be designed to evolve and adapt. Over time, as product requirements change and grow, a design system needs to keep up. To address this challenge, create a lean governance structure around your design system, allowing consuming teams to provide valuable feedback and guide its evolution. Prioritise solving for snowflakes and ensure the design system aligns with the organisational and product portfolio growth rhythm.

3. Lack of adoption and contributions from internal teams

Driving adoption and contributions to the design system is a common challenge faced by many organisations. To overcome this hurdle:

  • Prioritise and drive cross-functional adoption from the outset.
  • Educate teams through role-based training or immersive learning experiences.
  • Engage in open conversations with teams not using the design system to uncover the root of the problem.
  • Address any usability issues or gaps in coverage to increase appeal and usability.
4. Lagging expected Return on Investment (ROI)

Measuring the success of a design system is crucial, but organisations often need to focus on the right metrics. Instead of solely counting the number of components, concentrate on leading indicators such as adoption rates and how the design system accelerates delivery while improving user experiences. Identifying and addressing inefficiencies in the design and development processes can help maximise the economic benefits of the design system.

5. The disorganisation of the design system over time

A design system can become chaotic and difficult to manage without sound processes and governance. Implement lean processes to guide users on consuming and contributing to the design system effectively. Set up transparent workflows for using the system, contributing new code/design, maintaining documentation, handling multiple brands, and dealing with exceptions (snowflakes). This ensures the design system remains organised and aligns with organisational goals and culture.

6. Lack of capabilities, experience, or tooling within the organisation

Designing and coding high-quality, reusable, accessible user experiences requires specific skills and expertise. To address this challenge:

  • Consider partnering with experienced professionals who can help avoid common mistakes.
  • Incorporate usability, accessibility, and coding best practices into the design system to enable ease of use and learning for internal teams.
  • Utilise dynamic documentation tools like Storybook to establish clear guidelines and allow experimentation.

Scaling a design system presents its share of challenges, but with the right strategies and approaches, organisations can overcome them and reap the benefits of a well-implemented design system. By building an intelligent system of systems, fostering adoption and contributions, measuring value correctly, implementing lean processes, and leveraging expertise, organisations can ensure their design system continues to drive efficiency, consistency, and exceptional user experiences across their products and services.

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