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How AI is Revolutionizing Design Systems and Customer Experiences with Dave Calleja

Chris Strahl welcomes Dave Calleja back to the podcast to discuss the changing nature of design systems, integrating AI into the human creative process, and how to use behavior data for real-time design adaptations. Dave shares his views on the importance of design systems to customer experiences and how modern tools help scale personalized experiences that align with brand vision. Tune in to discover how the future of design systems is being shaped by AI, automation, and personalized content.

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Dave leads the design practice at Merkle and dentsu in Australia-New Zealand as well as their Design Systems offering globally. He is deeply passionate about the role design plays creating in exceptional, memorable and transformative customer experiences. Right now, he’s focused on helping teams deliver a clear experience vision to every moment in the customer journey. You can connect with Dave on LinkedIn.


Chris Strahl [00:00:00]:

Hi, and welcome to the Design Systems podcast. This podcast is about the place where design and development overlap. We talk with experts to get their point of view about trends in design code and how it relates to the world around us. As always, this podcast is brought to you by Knapsack. Check us out at If you want to get in touch with the show, ask some questions, or generally tell us what you think, go ahead and tweet us at thedspod. We'd love to hear from you. Hey, everyone.

Chris Strahl [00:00:22]:

Welcome to the design Systems podcast. I'm your host, Chris Strahl. Today I'm here with a repeat guest, Dave Calleja. Dave, it's so great to have you back. I know you're in the midst of a little bit of career reorganization, so why don't you talk about what you're doing these days?

Dave Calleja [00:00:36]:

Thanks, Chris. Really excited to be here again and really looking forward to the conversation. So my role has changed a bit since we last spoke. I'm responsible for experience design across Dentsu and Merkel in AnZ, and I'm also really excited to be leading our global design systems capability across Merkel.

Chris Strahl [00:00:53]:

Well, hey, it's great to have you back. It's been a long time coming. You were actually reminding me before the show that we used to record these asynchronously, like, with a ton of different software and everything like that. And, like, it's actually a different world of podcasting now that you've returned, so eager to have you back on, get kind of an update. And also, you know, one of the things that sparked this conversation was a post about the use of AI in design systems, and so I'm stoked to talk about it.

Dave Calleja [00:01:18]:

Yeah, likewise. You know, the world is changing so much faster since we last spoke. Like, we've been in contact on a number of different fronts, but since we last spoke, and what good looks like in the world of design systems and what people are sort of aspiring to be next is really, really exciting.

Chris Strahl [00:01:32]:

Yeah. So let's dive in thinking about just a quick update on design systems since the last time we chatted. I mean, I think last time we were talking about structures and systems and service models and how the people, the processes, and the tech have to sort of all come together. I think all of those things are still foundationally true, but we're now at this point where we have experienced an AI revolution in between podcasts. And so in this new world where we think about more mature design systems and AI entering the ecosystem, what do you think the fundamental change is.

Dave Calleja [00:02:09]:

Yeah, look, as you said, those fundamentals are still very much the case. I think it's very clear if you look around, particularly with the clients that we see and our sort of peers in industry, that there's been a seismic shift in maturity, not just in AI, of course, but in what people expect from design systems, both as customers, as users, and as creators of those design systems. That maturity has been clear and obvious in the last few years. But the shift is really that the expectation that we see for people creating experiences now is that they expect to be empowered by system thinking. They expect to have those type of systems available.

Chris Strahl [00:02:44]:

That's actually a really incredible point. And I think that that has been something that also reflects my own experience where I think that two years ago I was still having a lot of conversations with people about, like, what is a design system and why are they important. And I think that that has definitely been usurped by a how do I get value out of my design system, or how do I use my design system to elevate the work that our team is doing? And that shift has been pronounced. And I think that, like you talked about, maturity, you're seeing a lot of different organizations now, on their second or third, go around on these sorts of systems, and they're getting a lot better. What's really the key things that you see as the story about what's better?

Dave Calleja [00:03:24]:

I'm going to start with a bit of a stat about how we see people consider the existing experience and therefore how they look at their own design systems. We see that about 80% of customers think they've got an exceptional customer experience, but less than 10% of customers agree with that assessment. The same thing is happening in the world of these internal systems, which is that people look around, they go, we've got a design system. We see that so often. But what that design system is considered to be good now is obviously changed. We talked about that maturity, but also that's why we see people having to go back and redo it so many times. The right foundational layers weren't applied. What good looks like a few years ago is certainly not what good is now or what better should be.

Dave Calleja [00:04:08]:

And it's still a lot of set of components in code or a design system that they call a Figma file. That's still very, very prevalent.

Chris Strahl [00:04:16]:

Yeah, it's all over the place. You see these people that have built what amount to content management systems out of Figma, and in some places it's so pervasive that you see literally dozens of Figma files linked to each other because they've exceeded like the file size limit of figma. And these things become like almost these cms, like adaptations of a design system that exist in ostensibly collaboration tool. And like, look, Figma is great. Nothing saying like a wrong thing about Figma, but it's so overloaded in terms of the delivery of that value into a product that it's almost unrecognizable.

Dave Calleja [00:04:55]:

The idea that components are the critical structure of a design system, I think, is a red herring across the entire industry. I think that there's a lot of emerging leadership in the space to say, obviously, components and patterns and templates are critical because that's the tangible part that is delivered. But if you don't have the right foundational thinking, if you don't have the right vision, if you don't have the right principles in place, those things aren't coherent. Those things aren't sort of moving towards real value for the hands of the people that are going to be at the end of that experience or be creating those experiences, those designers, developers, content authors. I think what's happening in a really positive way is people are starting to talk about how is this going to be used, not what are we creating, not what are the tokens we're creating, what are the components we're creating, but what is its value, what is its intended purpose? And then working backwards from the problem.

Chris Strahl [00:05:47]:

Yeah, and I've been shouting about this a fair amount lately with this idea that we're measuring the wrong thing. We're thinking about adoption in a way that doesn't make a lot of sense. And when I think about that, there's things like knapsack that we go solve in a really acute pain for a bunch of people that are trying to set up a system. They're trying to build the design system, or what we think of as the object that represents that design system value. But really the true value of a design system isn't actually the creation of the system itself. It's in all the different product teams that that system then serves. And so we tend to get really wrapped up in like, let's go build a system, oftentimes to the exclusion of the value of that system being translated into something you can deliver into a product that ultimately serves a user.

Dave Calleja [00:06:34]:

The idea that we start to sort of come full circle in some ways to say what is it that we're trying to build? What is the outcome that we're trying to deliver? And then how then will the system serve that. There was an idea for a long time as we were going through sort of a maturity level, that in order to build a design system, there had to be a level of pause, stop everything and build the foundations. And I think that there was a lot of truth in that for a period of time, because there are so many accelerators, there are so many tools, the tools themselves have matured. I think that that's very much no longer the case. I think across the board, and I'm obviously generalizing, but generally across the board, I think we're at the case now where that scenario that you described, work back from the value that you're trying to describe, work back from the value that you're trying to obtain, and then have that through line. It's the old MVP diagrams that got thrown around in agile circles for so long, which is, it's not those diagrams of like the car without a steering wheel and a roof. It's this idea that you have to sort of start to provide value incrementally by building to the value, not building this huge bottom of the pyramid with no patterns or no value.

Chris Strahl [00:07:38]:

Yeah, and this leads me to a lot of ideas about how we better serve those consumer users. When you think about that consumer user and you think about what they actually want, and you can't really talk about this without talking about who actually is involved in the creation of the design system. Design systems are intended to be built by designers and engineers and to some degree, product and content people, all in concert, collaboratively. And so the ratios of those folks are more like one to one.

Dave Calleja [00:08:06]:


Chris Strahl [00:08:06]:

You get a lot of designers, a lot of engineers. They all build these things, the Lego bricks to use the really old, nearly anachronistic adage. Now then you have consuming teams, and those consuming teams look very different than the design systems team itself, where it's more that traditional ratio of like, hey, there's one designer for every six to twelve engineers. And that innately means that a product that is called a design system has to be weighted in the people that consume it towards that engineering mindset, because those engineers are the predominant user of the system. Now, that doesn't mean you ignore the designer, you have to do that. But if you think about what they're trying to do, there's kind of two things that always have come to my mind, right? There's an engineer out there that is trying really hard to be able to iterate on his product without having to take that designer's time and have them design wholesale a new experience. And there's a designer that spent a bunch of time building these wholesale new experiences that wants to make sure that the things that they've designed actually show up in the product, that their engineering cohorts can build them. And that to me is the core fundamental value that we're trying to create with these systems.

And there's all this stuff that kind of is attached to it, which is process and humans and governance and all these other things like that. But it's all a proxy for those two things fundamentally, and they don't necessarily occur in the design system, they occur in that consuming product.

Dave Calleja [00:09:34]:

I'm getting into the sort of middle to end stages of my career, I guess, as I a little bit older and in that entire time, and I've worked in digital that entire time, and I can't remember ever meeting a designer and developer or any of the people that you mentioned that didn't want to create something great. I'm sure that there's someone out there who just doesn't care. That's not the issue here. I think there's a lot of false sort of angst put up between different skill sets and capabilities that like, they don't know how to work together and like what the role of the design system is to make that life easy, is to make that relationship as easy as possible and to facilitate that, because there's different needs. We understand that. So the real value is, at the end of the day, the system must enable that rendering of intent, that shared rendering of intent that we talk about. Design is the rendering of intent. Experience.

Design is a rendering intent, all of those things. None of that happens without the actual code that's going into browsers and apps. So if the system can help render that intent, which is a great experience, a more seamless experience, a more accessible experience, a more personalized experience, then that's going to just result in more people having a better time, both in the creation and then the delivery and the experience of those things. Wow.

Chris Strahl [00:10:51]:

Well said. I think that that's probably the best five sentence description of exactly what this is supposed to be about, that I think I've ever heard.

Dave Calleja [00:10:59]:

I think it gets overlooked a lot. I think that it needs, like, it just, it feels like we need to come back to that more to say, this is not about tokens. Tokens are great. I can geek out tokens all day. We can spend the whole podcast talking about tokens. And I'm sure, you know, that's a valuable conversation that is involving. But for me personally, the part that's most exciting is what can we do as a community to help get better, more exciting, more accessible, more meaningful experiences into the hands of people? And that's the role of the design system, why I've been so obsessed with them for the last ten years.

Chris Strahl [00:11:29]:

Wonderful. So when we think about that and then we think about like how this all functions now with design tools and with code repositories and with ids, and with all these different stakeholders that wrap together and get NPM packages that ultimately go into products, that create something, that ultimately ships to an end user. There's complexity there, of course. And now what we're doing is we're throwing AI in on the top of the pile and basically saying like, okay, so does AI create more complexity and enhance our capabilities, or does it reduce the complexity via automation? And I think that there's not a really clear answer here, but I'd love for you to just kind of put your stake in the ground about where you think the value of AI in design systems really lives.

Dave Calleja [00:12:15]:

As you said, it's such a fast evolving space. And so I'm sure that what is possible is going to be changed probably by the end of the podcast. But genuinely, like month on month, week on week, those things are evolving, which is great. But where I'm excited and kind of where I'm seeing a lot of value right now is in two places. One is it is in that automation layer. It is in the ability to say the AI is going to take those tasks which are critical, which you can't avoid doing, like checking for accessibility, checking for compliance with whatever checklist you've got as part of your build and contribution process. All of those things are going to take time and put them back in the hands of the developers, the designers, the people, give that more creative time, that innovative time back. So that's critical.

But what I think that there is also a bit of an existential crisis that I'm seeing, which is across the creative and design experience industry generally, is AI is going to steal that creative output. It's going to start to become responsible for the creative output, for the innovation output, instead of in the hands of the people. And I think that we're very much in control of making sure that that's not the case by focusing AI on those things and using it as the tool that I think it is genuinely intended to be.

Chris Strahl [00:13:24]:

Well, this is amazing, right? Because I view this in a very similar manner. There's 30 startups that knapsack competes with that have all come out in the past 18 to 24 months that are all about the idea about, let me generate something, let me take that creative capability and let me put that in the hands of an LLM that can take the thing that I made, or the thing that I wrote down as a prompt, or the thing that I sketched out on the back of a cocktail napkin, hold that up to a webcam, and now make me a website out of that. I think that there's some interesting ideas that are happening in that space, but there's also this genuine trepidation that I think is often warranted about whether or not we want AI doing that, or if we want AI to just make us faster at doing the things we're already doing. I think there's a fundamental question here about the role of systems in AI, and I've actually posed this a couple of times. Now, is a design system just kibble for an LLM that we feed it, and that LLM gets smarter and bigger because of the context data provided by a design system? Or is it something that ultimately represents a value asset that can be tied somehow to an automation process that uses all these different data sources to help us make new components that are better or faster?

Dave Calleja [00:14:43]:

That idea that the people who are doing the roles of design system work today are going to be empowered through the use of LLMs and through AI generally, and through generative AI, is the part that I think is really exciting. But people view very much as binary. But the idea that you sort of press a button and a website is generated by scanning everything that's available on the Internet and sort of looking at the aggregate, that's a dark future. But there's many possible very bright futures where the designers, the developers, the copywriters, the creatives that are involved today in the design systems, in the way that we're working today, and now standing at the levers of this incredibly powerful machine and controlling how it consumes that kibble and saying, now that you've got all of this energy, I'm going to guide you on what to do. This is what an experience for knapsack looks like. This is what an experience for Coca Cola looks like. This is what an experience for health, for us government, for the australian government. This is what that should be.

We're going to provide the guide rails. And so now as we tweak and turn the knobs and the dials, that's an element to the creative input that I think is often overlooked. So it's not just about letting the AI loose and then creating whatever it is and having no control over that. It's about empowering those same people, those same minds, about tweaking the model, about tweaking the input, tweaking the structured data, that it's then consuming what that kibble is to create something that is meaningful and creative on the other side, and then still being able to manipulate it at faster than light speed compared to today.

Chris Strahl [00:16:07]:

This brings to light one of the key things about a design system, is a design system, depending on how mature it is, depending on how far you've gone, is a library of your design choices. And that library is structured innately just by its very nature and definition. There's tokens, there's schemas, there's different props and data types and all this other stuff that exists as sort of those like foundational structures of what a well structured or well built design system looks like. If you have all these different things that represent that structured data, and you can do something like a multimodal experience that takes a bunch of these different things, like a PRD, or a requirements document, or a set of user stories, or a Jira board, and then references a Figma file, references your design system and makes a website. That's one potential way of leveraging this, because that's automating a bunch of steps of how I build something with components. But is that actually how product gets built? Is the big question I have in that. I see value in that from the creation of componentry. I want to basically say, here's a card, it's got a button inside of it.

Go make this as an example of my design system. When I think about that, actually at the level of product, I oftentimes wonder if that's really the experience we're all going for. Because these brands that you mentioned are so guarded about that brand value and that brand equity. There's some CFO out there that has said that the value of Coca Cola as a brand is like x number of dozens of billions of dollars. Are we at a point, in your opinion, where people want to go and take a PRD and sketch out on a cocktail napkin what the Coca Cola Australia experience should look like and then click a button and make it?

Dave Calleja [00:17:49]:

Yeah, I think that that is a much more meaningful experience than a lot of what the AI generative today is, that it's so much more aggregated because often, because it's not using internal models or that internally structured data, I think the teams that sort of embrace documentation. And as a caveat, when I say documentation, I don't just mean like written documentation, although that's an important part. How you structure your tokens, how you structure your naming convention, how you structure the data and the association with different templates, with Personas or scenarios. There's a whole complex web of documentation. When I talk about that, those teams that embrace that, that start to understand how does this template or this experience work in different scenarios or for different outputs or outcomes, those are the teams that are going to be ready for this next wave in the most meaningful way. Because those benefits that you talked about there where you can say, hey, we're able to now generate really meaningfully personalized experiences at the one to one level, dynamically. So you're a new user today for Brandex and so patterns that you would be most beneficial to you as a brand new user of this app or this product of this website, that's going to change by the end of your journey. We can do that to a degree through MVT and through a b testing and through personalized journeys, but not dynamically.

They're still preset, we're still incredibly rigid compared to the scenario you're describing.

Chris Strahl [00:19:09]:

And this is where I think the really cool work can happen. Because while the multimodal experience is important to this realization, the more important thing is that we were able to actually make a determination about what works. And what works is innately something that's in user land. And this is a place that has been sort of like there be dragons in terms of the design systems landscape, right?

Dave Calleja [00:19:31]:


Chris Strahl [00:19:31]:

That's the domain of the product people that consume the design system. But I think the design system can start to care about how users actually use the products built with the design system. And the really interesting concept that I've been toying around with a lot is this idea. If I'm able to take like data from optimizely or Google Analytics or something else like that that's over there in user land, and pair that with the data structures and the design choices in the design system for that user that's building that product using the design system. Instead of giving them a giant tub of Legos, I can actually give them like here's the Lego builder set for a castle or a pirate ship or the Millennium Falcon. And that kit is a lot more valuable because it has a lot of those things that are understood to be valuable pre baked into it. That to me is really exciting.

Dave Calleja [00:20:20]:

The idea that we can start to, as you said, really speed up the things that we're doing today by having AI be that sidekick to say, as you said, here's the templates, here are the components, here are the journeys that are really working or not working for users. Onboarding to a product. Now, what do those look like? And then show me the ones that are. And I can start to actually generate a much, much more optimized and much better, more meaningful experience. But I also imagine a future very quickly by connecting those worlds where you can start to in the same way that we have CI CD pipelines, automation pipelines to change things in Figma and go all the way to code, whether that be tokens or component updates. That's a world that we're starting to live in increasingly more now. We're not that far from a possible future, and I think it's possible now, and I'm sure someone is already doing it, but it's obviously at the top of the relative maturity curve where you can then write into documentation, human friendly documentation, and say, this is now a better component or a better pattern for onboarding users, for new users. And the system is now prioritizing giving that component to that new user when they land instead of something else.

So those levers aren't just hey, designer, design this new thing that gets handed off through all of the regular channels because everything's connected. You can write something in one place and actually affect the customer experience. In functionally real time today, there should be, of course, checks and balances, but functionally, that's a possible future.

Chris Strahl [00:21:49]:

Yeah. And we already are starting to see this in small ways. Things like accessibility, right? Accessible experiences perform better. And so components that are accessible are the ones that get surfaced in the design system. And the ability to automate the checking to basically say like, hey, you know, you're using something that breaks color contrast, you shouldn't. That is a small but meaningful example of this in practice. And then likewise, things like preferences or personalization. I prefer things in dark mode because I was originally a developer and because.

Dave Calleja [00:22:21]:

It'S the right way to view things, right?

Chris Strahl [00:22:23]:

Exactly, because it's right. The idea of that personalization concept being now a theme that is selectable inside of an end product that is innately tied to the design system. The staircase that I see here that is interesting right now is now we're looking at all these different inputs into a design system to create components. But very soon we're going to be looking at all these inputs from user behavior land to decide which variants of those components are the right ones to use in various experiences. I think that if I could imagine a third step in that staircase. It would be the ability to take that user data and touch runtime, personalize that experience. I prefer dyslexic friendly fonts and dark mode and no motion. And my personal preference is to have lots of long form text and not as much emphasis on video or images.

That's a very different experience than someone that is a person that really likes a lot of flash and pizzazz and really would rather watch a video about something than read a book.

Dave Calleja [00:23:24]:

Personalization has obviously been a topic for such a long time now, and for good reason, because, as you said, making sure that the right type of experience is delivered. But the scale of that has been pretty plateaued for most of the history of the general web.

Chris Strahl [00:23:42]:

I'm old enough to remember when the semantic web was supposed to solve all this for us.

Dave Calleja [00:23:46]:

Exactly. There's been an agreed sort of limitation. That was not a scaling scenario. You could add more people and design more personalized experiences. It was bit of a brute force. We're now looking at a future, as you said, where these are the right types of tools to enable us to scale personalized experiences. But critically, doing that under the context and the cohesiveness of a brand vision, it's not just about finding the aggregate to say, this is therefore an accessible experience, or this is therefore a better experience for these people. And so then every brand is delivering that experience because that's the aggregate.

You do that under the context of what does the australian Coca Cola experience look like and why? That is still a guided, informed, opinionated decision. Now, let it loose at scale, but under the control, under the reins of the right people to say, this is that experience. We're going to allow newsers to have a different font, potentially, or we're going to allow different users to have a completely different onboarding experience for these reasons, but still within the concepts of, like, our brand principles.

Chris Strahl [00:24:53]:

Yeah, I think for so long we've been designing for the best possible mean, or maybe like the widest possible quartile range of experiences that we often neglect. The fact that the experience we're building is certainly not the optimal experience for everyone.

Dave Calleja [00:25:10]:

Yeah. You know, the average fighter seat, there is no average. There's a great case study, and I'm sure some listeners know, sort of the one I'm talking about, but go and look up, you know, what the US Air Force did when they tried to find the right. It was either the space shuttle or some kind of seat, and they just, there was no average. So what they had to do was create an adjustable seat, which seems super obvious, but we're not crested that yet digitally, because there was an understood feasibility that mean that you were suggesting was like, well, everyone agrees on what the different mean is the most valuable scenario, the most valuable user. But everyone also agreed that if we could make a better experience for each one individually, it just wasn't viable, it wasn't feasible to do that. That's starting to change rapidly, which is really exciting.

Chris Strahl [00:25:52]:

Absolutely. And I mean, think about what that means for accessibility and think about what it means for, you know, our ability to have a web that feels very personalized to us. You know, our experiences are so samey, even though the sites we all visit are different, largely because we haven't had the capability to make them really distinct and different. And that opens up a whole new possibility for design. It's a whole new area of risks too, because now all of a sudden you have a system that's touching runtime. But hey, CMS, solve this. Front end frameworks, solve this. So design systems can be a part of this conversation as well.

And I think that's an exciting new frontier.

Dave Calleja [00:26:30]:

Yeah. And what I think is different now from a risk perspective, which is, as you said, is genuine. You know, if you're going to change things at scale that much, it's also then you've got to have the ability to understand what's happening and to control that or to rein it in or to pivot as required. But our ability to monitor experiences is dramatically different to what it was today. You know, that ability to measure in app, on site as people are moving around in real time and see what's happening, that's something that can also can and should be connected back into this same system in ways that aren't being done yet, it's still a very much a linear, like a point a to point b line, someone to sign something, develop reports on it. As we start to turn that much into a much more meaningful circle through these models that then gives us new powers and new abilities that we haven't had historically either.

Chris Strahl [00:27:18]:

Yeah. Now I want to go work on this right now.

Dave Calleja [00:27:21]:

It's great. It's a really exciting sort of evolution in what's happening in the space.

Chris Strahl [00:27:27]:

Yeah. So talk to me about the role of content in this because I brought up the idea of preferring video over text or the other way around. Right. That's maybe not necessarily a content choice, that could be an interface choice. But if you're looking at Coca Cola Australia and everything is kangaroo themed instead of polar bear themed, that is now definitely a content choice. And so are we talking about the personalization of content being alongside the personalization of interfaces, or are these still things that we should represent as fairly distinct concepts?

Dave Calleja [00:27:56]:

Yeah, I think the content question is important because if you are going to then say, to use your scenario, that's this user or these types of people on this occasion, you know, like when I'm sitting in bed next to my wife, like this agreement that we're not both watching videos, so you're probably watching things with the captions or you have to go get headphones or. But when I'm, you know, in my office or I'm alone and I'm probably wanting to listen, that's the same person, but, and a different modality and a different content requirement. So the ability to surface those decisions or those options is then obviously tied to the content. You've got to have both of those options available in meaningful ways. Which again was a bottleneck. It was a throttle on the ability to surface the right type of experience in the right way. That's also changing quickly through. We don't have time to get into AI and the relationship to content automation, but if you're going to surface these experiences that are different and personalized and dynamic, you then have to have the content to sit within those spaces.

Chris Strahl [00:28:54]:

This is why I've always been a huge fan of content services. Things like contentful that basically allow you to make an API call to get content instead of having to go through a full round trip in a CMS. The idea that we can use content in a lot of different meaningful ways, that can be flexible and interrelated to the way that we think about using UI all in runtime. It's a pretty powerful idea that opens up all these new avenues for just how we wander around our shared spaces. Imagine experiencing Facebook very differently than you do today, or being able to look at TikTok in a very different light based on the type of consumer you want to be, there's so much that that can open up for us that it's like that to me is the through the looking glass moment, right? Is when you realize that what we're all talking about is the interrelationship of all these different points of data, with design, with content, with interfaces, and just how much of a wide world that opens for us.

Dave Calleja [00:29:57]:

The idea that we would deliver any kind of component or pattern or journey without really understanding what are the different content requirements of that. And look, I think generally speaking, the industry is pretty good at going what's the content that fills those gaps, but there's still a lot of issues with do we have the right content? Do we have the photography for that? Is someone going to have to write that? Like, I think generally there's a lot of still content pipeline issues. Like more content is generally good. And I don't know really any designers, certainly in my team, that wouldn't say having more content is a bad thing. Very much the opposite. You know, that helps inform the right experience, inform the right design solution that has to change simultaneously. And the availability of that content is also then going to be an advantage because that's what's going to then create the framework around the experience.

Chris Strahl [00:30:43]:

Yeah. And I think that there is all these questions that we're grappling with around access to content because there does need to be some kibble in the content side of things as well. And you're seeing all these big deals getting negotiated between Reddit and stack overflow and all these folks that are these major content sources for these different AI models. But this to me is really fascinating, because when you think about the idea of where does my content come from and what access do people have, there's all these little edge cases of this stuff that represent that unique brand value that we've been talking about this whole episode, where the content on Netflix is different than the content on Disney streaming, the content on Reddit is different than the content on Instagram. All these different places that you can build these unique brand assets from oftentimes exist in our own four walls of our organization, but generally just aren't accessible to us as that accessibility becomes more and more prevalent. And not accessibility in terms of what we were talking about earlier, but accessibility and just being able to reach into those systems, that's going to be this thing that I think powers a lot of the new experiences, because as, say, Coca Cola, you're going to have polar bear content, you're going to have kangaroo content, you're going to have all these other different things, but you're still going to have this overriding idea of, like, this is Coca Cola, then this is the representative brand for that. And all these different content and interfaces are just going to come together into this uniquely meaningful experience, which is still the role of design in all of this.

Dave Calleja [00:32:13]:

Yeah, absolutely. The idea that we would somehow lose control or access or influence, influence over what the experience should be, that's not something that I feel like is an existential threat. I think that as long as we can be, you know, clear eyed about the role that we play, when I say we, I don't mean just designers. I mean anyone who's responsible for the creation of the experience, particularly through systemizing those options, is that influence is expressed by telling those things, like the models, how to create the right experience. We leave scale to things that are great at scaling, like models, and we leave the direction and the influence. It's much more of a command and control structure over the army of bots. Right, go and build my army of bots. All of these right experiences, but take the direction from the humans.

To build that in the right way, that is, on brand. That differentiated experience is more critical now than it's ever been because it's so easy to go to any number of different tools and build a system pretty quickly, like compared to five years ago, and then to build, you know, whether that be in webflow, in Figma, in framer, in contentful, like, it's a rich tapestry of available tools to create new experiences where we're going to win as people who are proud of the work that we do and then users who are benefiting from work that is hopefully fantastic, is by ensuring that we've got an opinion over that influence.

Chris Strahl [00:33:43]:

I think that the last question and what I'd like to end with is if you think about what this means for a designer or an engineer, a product owner that's listening to this podcast, what does their world look like in three to five years? What does that day job feel like contrasted to now I have my opinions, but I want you to go first.

Dave Calleja [00:34:04]:

I think this is now a dual track sort of scenario that we're in. For a long time, I think design systems has been about, we understood this collective value that we don't want to redo the same things over and over again. So let's systemize things and make that available. And that was a fairly easy, took a little bit more time than I think a lot of us wanted, but I think there was a fairly easy thing to communicate, a benefit to communicate to business stakeholders to each other, that let's not do the same thing over and over, let's benefit from that. Let's systemize those things and we can move faster, and that's a great outcome, and we can be doing more interesting work. That is still a path we're very much on. We haven't sort of reached peak maturity in terms of there's still more design systems out there than not that are that, you know, Figma file or component library. There's still more design systems out than not that haven't got a perspective on how to enable people to work together or contribution frameworks.

Chris Strahl [00:34:59]:

Like there's, we're like a third of the way done.

Dave Calleja [00:35:01]:

Yeah, you know, there's still so much of that to happen. And of course there are exemplars like they're always at. That are very, at the top of that chart, relatively, but that still needs to happen. There still needs to be a lot of investment in ensuring that people know how to work together that are philosophical. When should we make something new and how do we understand the value of that, making that new contribution or changing that thing? How do we connect the worlds of design and content and product and developers into a way that is more seamless so that we're able to collectively render that intent? So that still very much has to happen. But now, simultaneously, as we've discussed, there also needs to be this consideration of what can we use and how to automate those things to get us along that maturity curve faster so that we can do more rendering and less worrying about missing the mark. And what are the new opportunities that we've got around things like genuine accessible experiences. Because all of that work, which is complex and hard and has so many different legislative requirements across the US and EMEA and AIPAC, we can start to do those things in a real way that isn't just genuinely too hard.

Like that was in the too hard basket for a good reason a lot of the time, which was where you would have to hire 100 people to keep up with the legislative requirements. A bot is great at understanding those and surfacing what to do.

Chris Strahl [00:36:16]:

Yeah, I mean, Dave, I'm an american. We just frankly just run over them anyway. You know, like our Internet imperialism at its best.

Dave Calleja [00:36:26]:

Yeah. So I think we're moving from being at the coal mine. Face it used to be before that we sent a lot of people down into the mines with pickaxes. That was the early days, that was the pioneering days of the design system because you just had to be doing that. As we now understand things like structured data, we're very much getting into controlling huge artifices that are from the control room. So we still have to design the machine that's doing the digging, we still have to design the system and the components and the patterns. But at some point we start to move back into the control room and guide these things. What should they do? We start to make influences that as we move those measures and those dials and those knobs and we can start to have scaled impact.

That doesn't mean we're losing control. It means that we're able to have a much larger influence over what's happening at scale, across every part in the customer experience, whether that be across multiple apps, across multiple brands, across multiple journeys, in ways that we just couldn't do before, because it was just mind blowing that you would have to take responsibility for that much at scale. It just wasn't feasible. The next few years is a game of understanding scaled experience design in a way that before it was targeted experience design relatively, yeah, I think about it.

Chris Strahl [00:37:34]:

In a similar vein. So if you think about like a design system, a design system is a hub. And if there's all these different nodes that are attached to the hub that are the products themselves. We've had these systems concepts for a while, and they've largely engaged around infrastructure things like DevOps or in the early 2000 teens, coded components. But now we're starting to take a bunch of this work that was happening at the nodes and starting to bring it into the hub, because that hub then provides that value across every single one of the nodes that leverages it. There's a lot of this now that is about how design systems are at the forefront of consolidating design intent and implementation into that hub. But there's a lot more that hub can do that represents that next iteration of that process. In my opinion, that hub can start to own a lot of that idea of not just what are all the possible right choices, what is the choice that we should be making.

Let's make it less arbitrary. Let's not just say, hey, I like rounded corners more than square corners. Let's actually have a data driven decision about that and start to take all that decision that's happening in product land and bring that across every single one of those nodes. We have a really great conversion experience happening in product a. Why can't we take that really great conversion experience and recommend it to product B, C, D, etcetera? And I think that the role of design in that becomes a lot about that segmentation and the understanding of where those design choices are applicable. Because I don't think that there should necessarily be an invisible AI that's running the show, right. I think that there needs to be someone in that cockpit with the fighter jet seat talking about how we segment, how we think about all this stuff. And I think for engineers, the interesting new challenge is how do we do this at scale and runtime? And that is along.

Your point is, look, we've had this capability for a long time, but the daunting task of the billions of potential choices across the tens of thousands of different data inputs is too much for any one team to really take on. But now with AI to work as that machine that I agree we still need to design, we now can start to tackle that scale problem. And that feels like an engineering challenge. And those are the two places that I really see this right is design has to understand, like they always have the audiences, the value, the intent, the problem and how they can solve it. And engineering has to build the machine to get us there. And that whole, like, new world is just so exciting to think about. And it's way cooler than this idea of like, let me click a button.

Dave Calleja [00:40:11]:

And make a website tremendously cooler. Like, the idea that we've got now an extra person on board, which is that we're collectively designing, building and influencing that machine. That AI that we use to collectively and collaboratively design the experiences, is a much more interesting and a much more fun place to sort of work towards than losing or seeding control to a bot which we don't have any influence over dramatically different futures. And I'm very much excited about the former.

Chris Strahl [00:40:41]:

Dave, this has been an absolutely fantastic conversation. It's brightened my day. It's gotten me excited about a bunch of different things. I don't know. I'm eager to dive in. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and taking the time to chat.

Dave Calleja [00:40:54]:

My pleasure. Thanks for having me back, Chris. You're doing great work here and it's awesome to be on board.

Chris Strahl [00:40:58]:

Awesome. Well, hey, this has been the design system podcast. Thanks for listening everyone. Have a great day. That's all for today. This has been another episode of the design Systems podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any questions or a topic you'd like to know more about, find us on Twitter at thedspod.

We'd love to hear from you with show ideas, recommendations, questions or comments. As always, this pod is brought to you by knapsack. You can check us out at

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