Notes on “The Ugly Truth about Design Systems” by Mark Boulton

The latest think piece on Medium from someone in the design system utopia about what their design system world is like, we hear words like this:

Scale. Repetition. Efficiency. Optimisation. Modularity. Standards.

These are not the words of design. These are the words of manufacturing. We’re not designing products with design system. We’re manufacturing products.

That’s an excerpt from Mark Boulton’s presentation “The Ugly Truth about Design Systems”. I really enjoyed his talk and wanted to write down a couple of insights that struck me:

  • Move fast and break things? How about: move slow and remember what broke (those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it).
  • Design systems uncover organizational disfunction—and that’s one of the hardest things to address.
  • Design system cannot be too tightly coupled to technology because dependencies age out—any minute change would have a huge impact.

Lastly, I loved this idea that he borrows around designing a system with a “strict grammar” that allows “free, playful expression”, because with strictness only you’re merely manufacturing.

Rules, then applications and examples. The point is the rules should be reinterpreted. There should be freedom to express in different verticals and contexts.

The conclusion? An alternative blueprint to many of today’s prescriptive design systems would be to conceive a strictly defined, well-articulated design grammar which would serve as the foundation to a system allowing free, playful application.