Brad Frost - The value of design systems


Have you been inspired by the book Atomic Design by Brad Frost? Whether you have read it or not, you will want to catch this episode to hear his advice on all things design systems! Read the article below for advice on starting a design system without a dedicated team or a lot of time and the difference between a product team and a formal design system team. Listen to even more advice from Brad in the full episode!

💯 You can begin creating a design system without a dedicated team or manager!

Step back with each new feature and begin building components with the intention to be reused. As you add new components, maintain consistency so all components will work together. Thinking through each new component with the mindset that it will eventually and organically grow into a design system.

🎯 In order for a design system to be successful, there must be a continuous feedback loop between the design system team and the product teams.

If the design system doesn't accomplish what the product team needs, it won't be used correctly. The design system will only succeed if the product team works with the design system team to improve it as new features are built. To ensure the design system is successful for the organization, the teams must be in constant communication to make it work for everyone! Ultimately, the design system should empower all teams, support organizational goals, and give the end user a great, consistent experience.

The value of design systems with Brad Frost

In episode 37 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Brad Frost, Creator of the Atomic Design Philosophy and Design Systems Guru. He runs his own consultancy where he helps people with design systems and assists companies by setting them up to design systems correctly.

Brad shares where the Atomic Design philosophy came from, what he did to spread this concept to others, and the power a design system can have for any organization. He also gives tips on how to set up a design system when you do not have a dedicated resource to do it for your company.

Brad Frost and Seth Coelen on The Product Design Podcast

From music to media arts and design to Atomic Design

When Brad was in college, he was interested in music production and recording engineering, but after an unpaid internship, he realized that was not the right path for him. He changed his major to media arts and design, which led him to create a website for his band. Working on the website for his band helped him realize how much he enjoyed the process, and when he graduated in 2007, he got his start creating websites.

Brad soon moved to New York and started working at a small agency that worked on eCommerce websites until he moved to a more prominent agency where he began as a mobile web developer. He entered the industry on the cusp of significant change. Since this was before responsive design, he got to learn on the fly as he went into this brave new world of tech. As he dug into responsive designs and navigation, he started thinking about components and eventually blogging about all things design system-related. One blog post changed his life and led him to write the book Atomic Design.

How to start the framework of a design system without a dedicated manager or team

Although Brad strongly believes in the importance of having a designated team or manager to lead and manage the design system, he realizes it is only sometimes feasible. If you can't get the green light to dedicate lots of time to creating a design system, here are some things you can do in your day-to-day to start building the framework.

💡 Approach each design by thinking through how you will use it again in the future.

As new features are requested, take some time to understand how this new experience could be used again down the road. As you build the individual components, can you make them easily reusable for future projects?

🎯 Keep each component consistent.

If each component you build is consistent and ready to use for a future project without needing additional time to tweak it, you can start to build reusable component libraries.

“The whole purpose of a design system is to unlock the future of how your products are designed and built. If it's not doing that, it's a failure.”

🔥 Stay dedicated to the mental work!

Since you may not have the resources to move fast in creating the design system, you need to stay dedicated to the process of thinking through how each component will live in this slow process of building it project by project. It will organically grow over time, and the mental work will become easier as you continue building. Once the early stages of your design system are at a point that a formal manager or team needs to take over, you will have an easier time getting buy-in from management.

The importance (and difference) of product teams and design system teams

As a component library becomes more established, it will become more successful if a design system team becomes responsible for it. It is critical that product teams have open communication with the design system team, and there must be space for open discussion on how to improve the design system and the products it empowers for both teams to succeed. Here are some things to consider when working with a design system team.

🤔 Understand the difference between a product team and a design system team.

The design system team is more behind the scenes in an organization but is responsible for their own product, the design system. They empower the other product teams by ensuring the design system is effectively built.

🚨 The design system team must work with the product teams.

If there is no continuous feedback loop between all product teams and the design system team, there is risk involved. The design system team must understand the needs of the product teams to ensure the design system is successful. Product teams need to continuously work with the design system team to ensure they don't break anything and end up with design and tech debt.

💯 Each organization, and the design system that will work for them, will be a bit different.

It is important to note that each organization will vary based on the needs of the organization and customers, as well as the individuals working on the various teams. Some organizations contain more trust and competency, and others do not. This becomes important when deciding if the design system needs to be rigid with very specific guidelines and guardrails or if it can be more customizable.

Brad Frost
“In order to really make a design system successful, it has to serve the organization and the users that the organization is trying to reach.”

Thank you so much, Brad!

That was amazing!!! We were thrilled to have Brad Frost on the show to share the value of design systems and dive deep into what led him to write Atomic Design. Our team has learned so much from his book, and we learned even more during this chat! We are so thankful that he shared so much valuable information on the value of design systems.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes a deeper dive into Brad’s fascinating journey from music major to becoming the Author of Atomic Design and how Brad became established in our industry! Don't forget to follow Brad on Twitter and LinkedIn, and keep an eye out on his website for what he is up to!

Where to find Brad

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