Staffing a Design Systems Team

A couple really good posts lately on the idea of what it means to have a Design Systems Team.

Most recently, Kaelig blogged about Design Systems Ops. This would be a role within the company that bridges the gap between design systems team and engineering.

“A Design Systems Ops is a person […] who needs to get into the designers’ shoes, and have a feel what their are trying to conceptualize. At the same time, Design Systems Ops need to understand the engineering requirements and define methods that will help shipping and scaling the Design System.”

This description is similar to an article I wrote on Design Engineering, which talks of front-end devs who sit between design and engineering, be they front-end application developer or backend developers.

What it comes down to is the composition of a Design Systems team. This team will need to have multiple roles:

1. Designer

The role of the designer on the team is to design the components and patterns but more importantly, their job is to work with all of the designers across the organization to ensure that the patterns are thought through and that any shared assets like Sketch files or PSDs are usable for the entire company. They also work with the rest of the design systems team to make sure the designs don’t lose anything in the transition into code.

2. Design Engineer

To steal the role title from my own article, the Design Engineer implements the code into HTML, CSS, and maybe even JavaScript. They work with the designer to prototype interactions. They ensure functionality and accessibility is addressed within the front-end code that is written.

3. Engineer

At Shopify, we wanted to build out an “API”. Specifically, we wanted to build Rails helpers to allow devs across the company to easily use the front-end code without having to just copy/paste from somewhere else, which can introduce errors. The Design Engineers didn’t have the required skill set to build out performant Rails code. As a result, having someone on the team to do this was hugely beneficial. This person may be the Design Systems Ops role that Kaelig outlines.

Depending on your hiring, you may have front-end developers who can do design engineering and engineering. You may have designers who can do design and design engineering. With large organizations, greater specialization occurs.

At both Shopify and Xero, I advocated for a dedicated Design Systems Team to shepherd the Pattern Library. Like Nathan Curtis says, “a system isn’t a project with an end, it’s the origin story of a living and evolving product that’ll serve other products.”

As organizations grow, and the influx of designers move from agencies into large teams, we’re going to continue to see the need to build and maintain design systems teams.

Published March 22, 2016
Categorized as Opinion
Short URL: