San Francisco, California

The Harmony of the System

I wrote up some opinions I have about design systems and portfolios for CSS-Tricks:

In my experience working with design systems, I’ve found that I have to sacrifice my portfolio to do it well. Unlike a lot of other design work where it’s relatively easy to present Dribbble-worthy interfaces and designs, I fear that systems are quite a bit trickier than that.

You could make things beautiful, but the best work that happens on a design systems team often isn’t beautiful. In fact, a lot of the best work isn’t even visible.

Jennie Yip replied and mentioned that there is a way to show design systems work in a portfolio, pointing to the lovely work of Jocelyn Wong. But I guess maybe my point got lost in the rant a little.

What I was trying to say in that post is that making beautiful things is, quite frankly, easier than making a beautiful system – and to do that well you often have to sacrifice or compromise the beauty of this one component or this one project for the overall harmony of the system.

I mentioned to one of our designers today that certain parts of our UI are at war with one another – or that perhaps our entire design team is in a stalemate where our weapons are drawn and are at eachother’s throats. Cards and alerts, illustrations and animations – we use these to hijack attention but this increases the stakes for everyone else on the team. Now to get their UI noticed they have to escalate things even further – bolder text, bigger animations, kaboom!

The goal of a design systems team is to reduce the stalemate, to stop the civil war that’s quietly raging inside an organization. And to do that they must sacrifice their portfolio by making things boring.