Learn how to improve communication and collaboration for your design systems team with guest blogger Lauren Beatty, Staff Engineer at Zapier.
Lauren Beatty is a Staff Engineer at Zapier, and a fan of the very front of the front end. She's been lucky to work on Design Systems at different stages of evolution at a number of organizations, and loves to drive positive change through small decisions that scale exponentially.
As a design systems team, you’ve likely seen this happen. Your team is working on a cool new project. You deliver the feature, and at best, you hear nothing. At worst, you hear, “I wish we had known about this sooner, we could have used X feature.”
This is the classic pitfall of working in isolation as a platform team. A design system doesn’t work if you aren’t actively communicating and collaborating with your consumers.
The good news is there are lots of great ways to improve and build effective communication and collaboration for design systems teams.
Design systems are meant to reduce friction for designers and engineers. Design systems are there to create consistency and to make it easy to create designs and products. To do that, we need to make sure that our system meets the needs of our product friends, and is built in collaboration with them. What could this look like in practice?
Regular listening tours with product teams. Check in with the teams you serve. What is working well for them? What problems are they having? What is on their upcoming roadmaps?
This information is a goldmine for design systems teams. It helps you prioritize what’s most useful to tackle. What common patterns are you seeing that could be part of the system? What problems are folks articulating that need to be solved at the system level? That’s what you should work on!
Office Hours. Have regular drop-in office hours. This accomplishes a few goals:
Working in the open is a GREAT place to start: it establishes lines of communication with the teams you serve, builds trust with your consumers, and builds design system knowledge and buy-in across the organization.
The next step is to start amplifying the work that your team is doing. Why? Platform work is less visible than product work. The direct impact of design systems is measurable, but its metrics are often not as well understood as product-focused metrics. In short, you need to shout out the value that your system brings to the organization...early and often! This builds visibility for the work that you’re doing, boosts team morale, and builds a culture of celebration around the design system.
What kinds of communication work here?
Bite-sized communications are fantastic!
Big announcements! Sometimes your team works on a larger-scale feature or improvement to the system. This is the time to pull out all of the stops.
Effective communication and collaboration are essential for the success of design systems teams. By building a culture of working in the open with product teams and promoting your work, you can increase visibility, build trust, and create a shared understanding of the value and impact of your design system. Regular listening tours, drop-in office hours, bite-sized communications, and product-like announcements are all great ways to improve communication and collaboration with other teams. A design system is never truly finished. Ongoing communication and education are keys to building your design system’s reach and impact on your team, your consumers, your organization, and your customers.
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