Thriving Community of Design Systems Experts Gathers at Clarity 2023

I recently had the pleasure of attending Clarity in San Francisco’s famed Mission District at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The conference brought together a community of Design Systems enthusiasts, creating space to openly share knowledge, develop meaningful connections and gain fresh perspectives. There were two full days of presenters who spoke eloquently around a few core themes. Woven throughout the event was an emphasis on the importance of accessibility, inclusivity and collaboration. Every speaker had an interesting and unique viewpoint to share and, collectively, they provided a truly comprehensive view of the industry's challenges and opportunities. 

The Power of Community

An obvious key highlight of the Clarity was the sense of community it brought to its audience. Leaders and practitioners working on Design Systems rarely have the opportunity to connect with their peers outside of their own organization face-to-face, even though many of them are active in various virtual collaboration spaces, sharing expertise and building their professional networks. The conference offered a unique space for them to connect across industries and job titles and, ultimately, join forces to share perspectives, discuss common interests, and find inspiration that they wouldn’t likely encounter in their day to day work.

Most Design Systems teams have become accustomed to advocating for their own importance, working tirelessly to justify their efforts, overcome various corporate obstacles, and secure buy-in from stakeholders who sometimes struggle to see value in their work. In a moment of much-needed respite, Clarity attendees and speakers surrounded each other with a warm message of reassurance, “Your work is important to your organization and to our community.” This sense of support and common purpose was noticeably empowering for this group of people who were happy to take a break from working on their respective islands.

Milestones to Remember 

Several Clarity presenters touched on key moments in recent history that had significant influence on our industry and how Design Systems came to be. As someone who has practiced in the digital production space for 15 years, I love a good nostalgic moment thinking about how far we’ve come in such a short period of time and what decisions/tools/trends actually lead us to the current moment. In his talk, From Walled Gardens to Open Fields: Why We Need Open Standards in Design, Kaelig Deloumeau-Prigent reminded us that in 2010, Apple began discontinuing it’s support of Adobe Flash given it’s proprietary nature which, in turn, influenced many practitioners, myself included, toward open technologies and standards that are still relevant today. Similarly, in A Love Letter to CSS Variables, Daniel Banks had the audience reminiscing about the early days of Twitter Bootstrap and how its efficient and reusable framework paved the way for us to conceptualize how product design could be standardized and made repeatable. As an audience, we reflected on (and chuckled about) these moments while appreciating our personal and shared journeys and where they may take us next. 

Building Accessible and Inclusive Products

The most noticeable theme ever present throughout the event was the imperative for digital production teams to design and build products that meet more diverse user needs. This resonated strongly with attendees, reflecting their concerns and aspirations as a community. Speakers emphasized the importance of hiring more people with divergent viewpoints and cultivating a culture of accessibility. It simply isn’t enough to say “We care about accessibility and inclusivity”. This community is calling on their organizations to really prove it. 

Soren Hamby’s talk Accessibility and Ouija Boards made the point that, just like Ouija Boards, accessibility can be mysterious for many organizations. The presentation sought to demystify it by defining a maturity model and describing the required team roles as compared to the different types of dogs required for a dog sled (which made a surprising amount of sense!). When it comes to embracing a culture of accessibility, some will want to lead and others will want to follow but all are needed to reach the goal. 

Roadmaps: Step-by-Step 

As a former Program Manager, I was totally gripped by Jules Forrest’s presentation Designing a Community-Driven Design Systems Roadmap. Jules provided a comprehensive guide to the daunting question asked to every digital product team - What’s on your roadmap? She spoke to the importance of leveraging stakeholder insights and giving all participants the necessary tools to contribute to the process willingly and meaningfully. Her methodology was meticulous and broken down to an incredible level of detail, including the exact messages that she sent her colleagues in slack and specific formulas used in her spreadsheet. We all know the importance of having an effective roadmap but it’s typically an arduous challenge for teams to produce. I applaud Jules for sharing her process with the community so transparently. Her talk is sure to empower many teams to create the roadmap that they need. 


As the conference wrapped up, I found myself feeling inspired and grateful to work alongside so many brilliant and empathetic people that are truly committed to their craft. Many thanks to Clarity for providing this platform and reigniting the passion for our community. 

Before returning to our daily lives, I want to re-state how important it is that we stay connected with each other, whether that be in person, at events or through our DS Slack channel. Knapsack is looking forward to sponsoring Clarity again next year. We invite all professionals seeking inspiration and growth to join us at this exceptional event and be part of our thriving Design Systems community.

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