Four Ways To Secure Design System Buy-In — Insights From an Expert Panel

Explore insights from a panel of experts on proving the ROI of design systems, emphasizing collaboration, tailored communication, early wins, and effective documentation.

In a recent webinar hosted by Supernova, a panel of design system experts convened to discuss the challenges and triumphs of building a business case and demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) of design systems. The panel included:

This recap dives into their insights, offering actionable takeaways for anyone advocating for the value of design systems within their organization.

The case for collaboration

One of the overarching themes that emerged from the panel was the collaborative nature of successful design systems. Far from being solely a designer's tool, design systems require buy-in from engineering, product, and brand teams to reach their full potential. By framing design systems as crucial front-end infrastructure — akin to any reliable common infrastructure project — it becomes easier to secure the resources and support needed for long-term success.

"Think about design systems as an investment, not an operational expense… By capitalizing design system costs over the lifespan of your digital products, you can start to demonstrate a positive impact on the company's net worth." - Josh Clark

Tailoring your message for maximum impact

The panelists emphasized the importance of tailoring your communication strategy based on your audience. When speaking to executives focused on speed and efficiency, highlight how design systems can accelerate development time. Conversely, if addressing designers, emphasize the potential for improved consistency and a more streamlined workflow. The key is quantifying the value of design systems.

"Executives care about ROI…Avoid vague terms and instead, demonstrate the tangible time and money savings achieved through component reuse and a centralized source of design truth." - Lauren LoPrete

Early wins and long-term value

The panel agreed that one effective tactic is showcasing "champagne projects" — high-priority initiatives where design systems can quickly demonstrate their value. By starting small and focusing on foundational components, you can rapidly build a library of reusable UI elements that multiple teams can benefit from.

"Don't try to boil the ocean. Choose a small set of core components to establish your design system, and gradually expand your library over time." - Josh Clark

While the initial time savings might be the most immediate benefit, the experts highlighted the enduring value that design systems create.  A mature design system ensures brand consistency, reduces friction across teams, and fosters a culture of innovation as new features can be built more  efficiently.  Educating stakeholders about this long-term impact is crucial.

"Find ways to objectify it. If people ask, 'How much time are you saving?' and your response is 'a whole bunch,' that's probably not going to land that much. You need to find ways to quantify this so that there is some idea of the actual value that you're providing as opposed to touchy-feely words." - PJ Onori

The power of effective documentation

Clear and easily navigable documentation emerged as a critical success factor for a design system.  The panel advocated for investing in documentation that provides practical examples and templates, rather than just lengthy written explanations.  The goal is to make it intuitive for both designers and developers to find what they need and quickly understand how to implement components.

"Usability is key when it comes to design system documentation. If people can't easily find what they're looking for or readily understand how to use it, adoption will suffer.” - Lauren LoPrete

Key takeaways

  • Design systems are a collaborative effort that requires buy-in from various stakeholders.
  • Frame design systems as an investment with a positive ROI.
  • Quantify the value of design systems to make a compelling case.
  • Start small and showcase early wins to build momentum.
  • Balance short-term wins with long-term value.
  • Invest in clear and concise documentation for better adoption.

Building a strong case for design systems requires understanding your stakeholders and aligning your message to their priorities. By emphasizing the value proposition, showcasing early successes, and ensuring long-term sustainability, you can effectively demonstrate the ROI of design systems and secure the buy-in you need for a successful implementation.

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