Who should be on your design system team?

Prepping your 2022 hiring budget? Keep these roles in mind for your design system team. Not sold on building a team for your design system? We've laid out the reasons why you should.

December 21, 2021
by
Michael J. Fordham

Your design system impacts almost everything about your business: your marketing collateral, your product, the way you communicate with your customers. It’s the central source of truth for design, keeping elements across platforms and disciplines high-quality and consistent.

There’s also the knock-on effect of your company’s reputation. The quality of your design system defines the quality of future work. A great design system doesn’t guarantee a fantastic product, but it sure helps.

So how can you make your design system as strong as possible? The answer is to involve the right people throughout its life and maintenance. Who are the right people, you ask?

UX designers

UX designers create your product's user experience. While they may own your product's design, they also (often) own user testing and meeting accessibility standards.

UX designers are fundamental contributors to your design system. They create all visual interfaces. They are responsible for:

  • Deciding the general design style for the company,
  • Setting the design tokens to align with the design style, including the color scheme and typefaces,
  • Designing the components for the UI, and,
  • Constructing the complete UI frames with the components.

The UX designers will work directly with every other stakeholder involved to build and maintain the design system. They are typically using it every day, and so often take control of the design system’s management.

Front-end developers

Front-end developers work on the visual and behavioral aspects of a website or application. They're responsible for matching the design system with their UI and making sure to build in an accessible way.

A front-end developer plays a key role when it comes to the design system. They are the people taking the components and UI designs, and turning them into a real, working product.

Regarding the design system, a front-end developer will typically collaborate with:

  • UI designers who share UI designs with them and share how they expect the product to behave. A UI designer will typically share the design system directly with a front-end developer who can inspect it, give feedback and refer to it when building the front-end of the product.
  • Accessibility experts to ensure their coded components are meeting the necessary standards and the UI is usable.
  • QA to make sure that the design system is being followed as closely as possible.

Front-end developers make sure that what is being designed is achievable, realistic and technically feasible.

After a front-end developer builds a component matching the design system, it is also possible for them to share the code for that corresponding component so that when it’s needed again by another developer it can be.

Want to learn about how a unified design system can strengthen your designer-dev relationships? Check out this webinar recording.

UX researchers

UX researchers find and communicate the needs of your users. They will be able to share insights that will help define who to build the product for, why and how to deliver it.

UX researchers help with deciding what to include in a design system. For example, if they identify that your app should be available on TV platforms rather than smartphones, this completely changes the type of interactions to expect. Imagine the difference between entering text on a remote control vs your smartphone. There’s a stark contrast.

UX writers (AKA content designers, content strategists)

UX writers handle communicating information in the most appropriate way. They often have copywriting abilities, coupled with strong visual design skills.

Content designers help your company define how to convey information to your audience. This doesn’t mean how it’s written (although copywriting is often one of their most in-demand skills). Content designers may decide that data is better represented in a graph than textually, for example.

Why does your design system need a UX writer? Read our interview with Adobe Content Strategist Jess Sattell.

They play an important role when it comes to conveying the right information at the right time. This is important when it comes to components in your design system. No component should be relaying information that isn’t relevant to its context. A content designer reviews the components built, suggests enhancements and adds value to the user experience.

A content designer will work very closely with UX researchers (to gain insights about the users) and UI designers (to give feedback on the communication of information). They may collaborate with accessibility experts to convey information in an interpretable method.

Accessibility experts

Accessibility experts have a deep understanding of the needs of users who require assistive technology to use products. They have a very good understanding of accessibility needs, along with specifications like WCAG.

An accessibility expert is a crucial member of your design system team. Your design system can make or break your product’s experience for those who rely on assistive technology, as it is the root of your entire application. If you consider accessibility from the start and understand how you can design inclusively, your product should be easier for everyone to use.

Want to learn more about the connection between design systems and accessibility? Check out our report.

Accessibility experts can:

  • Collaborate with UX researchers to ensure a diverse enough audience are being studied, which means you are getting the most accurate insights,
  • Work with content designers to convey information in a way that everyone can interpret and understand,
  • Give feedback to the UI designer on tokens and components, ensuring font sizes are legible, colors have a good contrast and the team is following best practices, and,
  • Audit the product that is output by the developers.

Business analysts

Business analysts focus on how the company could solve problems in the market through innovation in a product. They gather requirements and share them with other key stakeholders, along with planning out the solution’s build.

Context is important when building out a design system. Particularly when your product caters for more than one market. For example, your design team may be building out a set of graph components for conveying information about finances. In the West, this may be visually described through color. Green is good, red is bad. However, in Eastern Asian markets red culturally represents good fortune and prosperity, and so red might indicate an uptick in stock price.

We consider these cultural differences when building a design system so that the product is inclusive to its locale. Business analysts may give feedback to UI designers to ensure these intricacies are in the components which are then shared with the front-end developers building the app.

QA engineers

QA engineers monitor the output of different teams to ensure it is following a good process and produces a high-quality product.

In terms of your design system, QA plays an important role by:

  • Monitoring the designs being output from the UI designer to make sure components and complete UIs are of a good enough standard, and,
  • Analyzing the output from developers when implementing the design system by comparing it against the design system for any mismatches.

Does your company need its own design system team?

While it’s great to have lots of different colleagues collaborating on a design system often, sometimes it’s not possible to have that level of interaction.

Cross-functional collaboration on your design system will inevitably improve its quality, which should have a knock-on effect on your end product. Sometimes you don’t always require a dedicated team. Perhaps colleagues could dedicate an hour or so every week to review their responsibility for the design system—as it is a living document.

Your design system is constantly changing, much like the world we live in. Sometimes it will have to adapt. It’s important that you involve the right people in making those changes so that you can produce the best quality product.


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