Why Design Systems Fail and How to Make Them Work?

Be it machinery or a human mind, after doing the mundane one does run out of the capacity of creativity. And so is the case with any successful application. It is sure to face an identity crisis where things go haywire – bevelled edges, the type scale disproportionate, buttons spread out etc. It can be crushing especially when an application loses its aesthetic appeal. But the world of the World Wide Web has been visionary. It was due to these tech glitches that design system came into being.

A design system is typically a storehouse of the aesthetics of any application. It includes a visual pattern library, sketch library, component library which houses codes, guidelines for voice and tone, usage guidelines for codes, guidelines on how to use a design and animation language guidelines. Design systems are an efficient way for design-driven development, and requires teamwork for its success. 

Here are a few points as to why a design system fails and how to make it work.


Every system, after it has been running for a given time,is required to be refurbished or revamped. The same applies to a design system. Its components can face issues with time, and the only way to resolve that is by revisiting or revamping these redundant components, with the right approach.


2. Synchronization

We live in a world where technology is evolving every other minute. So is the case with design systems as well. Even before the implementation of the components, things are likely to evolve in the front end. And that’s why timely synchronization of frontend and backend is important to make sure that a design system succeeds.


3. Maintenance

Any product is likely to work if it is given timely maintenance. Maintaining the style guide after the product is launched and the initial excitement dies down, is a difficult feat. It is less fun and perhaps why neglected. But maintenance is an after-sale service for every application.


4. Teamwork and coordination

Any product is a by-product of teamwork. For any design system to function as desired, it needs external backing as well as internal support in equal proportions. When we say external support system, we refer to the support of top and bottom echelons of any organization. Teamwork and coordination become a priority in an organization where there are old and crusty codebases still in use.


5. A dedicated team

For a design system to function well, one needs to put in place a dedicated team that will ensure its smooth functioning. It needs to be kept a check on, not to mention it needs absolute investment and efforts of a team that will take care of its functionalities. If you neglect to keep updating the components of a design system, it is sure to fail. So, the only solution to this is to watch out for the design system with an eye of a hawk.


6. Shared responsibility

With a team in place that will solely take care of a design system, one can delegate the responsibilities. This team can comprise of engineers or designers or can be composed of both – designers and engineers. Their responsibilities will be shared such as lending support by helping others to set up on the design system, development of the design system, consistently creating a rollout plan and upgrading the system – overall product management.


 7. Communication

What makes any system lose its charm is the lack of teamwork or coordination, and good and effective communication is essential for teamwork. It is likely to arise a difference of opinions between designers and engineers. To quell these recurring differences is essential to the maintenance of a design system. It can be thoroughly challenging to arrive at a final decision, there is most likely to be a few hits and misses, but the sole focus should be the design system and how to make it function better.


8. User testing

User Testing is the scale that tells you how well your design system is functioning and what changes you need to implement to make it better. This is effective because you get feedback directly from the users. This ensures that your design system is upgrading timely and that leaves fewer chances for failure.


9. Design

We have discussed multiple facets here that will make your design system solid but one of the most important and key elements is the design itself. The architecture of your system needs to be solid from the word go. It should be flexible and futuristic, with room for customization. A solid architecture can be achieved with namespacing and semantic versioning.


Namespacingis a systematic organization of the codes into different groups to prevent collisions of names.Semantic Versioning or SemVer is a universal way to version the software development. It ensures that every transition is kept a tab on, and it does a better job of clarifying tech upgrades that have taken place or are likely to take place. SemVer makes things clear and meaningful for the team.


10. Reduce friction

A design system that is outdated or has continuous friction in its functionality, is not what users are looking for. To avoid this, one needs to ensureminimal friction by lowering the cognitive overhead of development and by creating a design of least resistance. If the design is over-engineered and complicated the users are less likely to come back to the application. A user is no expert in technicalities that go into the making of an app/design system. Hence, the team must work on reducing friction in the system which will make sure that the users come back to the app.



The design system for smooth functioning needs to have a dedicated team that will delegate responsibilities and take care of the design components, making sure that they are updated from time to time. As also, one has to keep in mind the synchronisation of the front end and the backend. And basing the design system on a solid architecture should be the key priority of the designers and engineers. Any system requires rework and that should be kept in mind when you want a design system. Timely revamping the system will ensure that it is not outdated.

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