Design Systems Create Bad Designers
If design systems take over, what work is left for the designer?
I’ve been both enamored and troubled watching the Design System evolve over the past several years. I first became interested in pattern libraries in 2007 as a young designer working on Windows software, then again as I was tasked with aligning multiple web products into one consistent experience in 2013.
I’ve since moved away from in-house design and have witnessed this evolution from pattern libraries to design systems from the outside. The trend has been largely driven by improvements in design tools, UI dev frameworks, and frankly massive design teams who charitably publicize their work to help inspire and educate burgeoning young designers.
But for all the positive gains this movement has yielded, I worry about what it’s doing to the craft of design. Are the goals these systems aspire to actually good for the field? And who is even pushing for these advancements? And finally, if these systems succeed at their goals, what work is left for the designer?
In this article I provide a counter opinion to these massive trends in design systems. My goal is not to simply be contrarian, but to inspire designers to think more deeply about the ramifications of these seemingly innocuous systems. I’m certainly not exactly right in each proposal that follows, but at the very least, I hope to provide some food for thought.
Design systems are driven by efficiency, which is not a goal in design
It’s true that being more efficient is desirable. But the experimentation that goes along with design is not driven by this goal. In fact, design systems should instead focus on how to give designers more ability and power to experiment.
But let me be clear: Design experimentation isn’t about A/B testing, it’s about finding solutions.
Designers mustn’t forget the power of finding solutions through making. By pushing pixels, we get to understand the problem from a different angle. Sometimes we literally need to see what something looks like before we cross it off our list, and often, better solutions emerge as serendipitous accidents while “playing” with…