San Francisco, California

Consensus in design systems

At Gusto we have a little web app called The Guide which contains some of our documentation for our React components, illustrations, and CSS helpers. And in its introduction I set out to inform the team of our goals in a more collaborative spirit:

This is where all of the documentation for Gusto’s design system is archived for safe keeping; it contains all the assets you need, such as images and illustrations as well as notes on our copywriting style and documentation for our React components. In fact, we like to think of The Guide as a sort of Pokédex.

Ideally this is where we can share information and collaborate in a public space to gain consensus across missions in terms of code, design, accessibility, performance, and branding. If we improve a single component here in The Guide then all of our apps and features will reap the rewards at the same time in a predictable manner.

Notice the phrasing there because it’s important, especially the bit about this app being a place for gaining consensus on an issue. This is the hardest part of design systems work that I don’t really hear anyone talk about because quite frankly it’s easy to make rules and documentation but it’s nigh on impossible to get a bunch of people in a room to agree about something.

This took me a long time to figure out, about how design systems work is much more than being the jerk that sets the rules. Also it took me a long time to figure out that design systems is basically politics. And fixing the front-end of a giant web app is also like trying to combat climate change.