The day a design team almost killed its brand new Design System
Dec 29, 2022
Sarrah Vesselov, Director of Design at Honeycomb tells the story on how Lattice, their design system almost DIES, and the learnings along the way in order to truly get the whole organization on board.
The perfect time to start a design system… or is it?
Starting a new design system seems like a good challenge when your company is in a time of growth, your customer base is growing and there is a lot of adoption and you're starting to get asked for maturity for the product and the overall look to be able to deliver to new enterprise customers.
The team at Honeycomb had a lot of inconsistencies which they wanted to work on, and they wanted to step up their game. They worked together with marketing, sales and engineering to get a buy-in from all departments, and once they had a good-to-go, they got together to start.
In the beginning everything was amazing, and the team planned for two quarters making the DS happen, starting with the visual rebrand, auditing their current DS and establish their foundations in Storybook, but when some issues started showing up, the enthusiasm faded.
Come… the monsters!
They started implementing some of the fundamental changes they did in the visual brand into the UI and documenting it. The changes were having a big impact in the overall usability of the product.
However, they team started finding what Sarrah calls little monsters:
Expired code: Their Storybook implementation was out of date, so engineers needed to spend time on this
Inconsistencies: Once they got to the point of implementing the UI elements, they ran into consistency problems across different components.
Deprioritization: The multiple problems found by the team made it so, that suddenly the thread they've been following to prioritize was lost
No collaboration: There was no space for the bigger conversation on scalability and mainteinance.
False optimism: Probably the worst and most surprising, with showed some progress but didn't really make the project go through.
So it was a very disheartening thing, and they reached an impasse. But they couldn't stop everything they had in the roadmap to do that.
After a chat with the other design leaders at her company, it was decided that they could simply not move anything from the roadmap. Something like the funeral of the DS project.
All Latice work stopped for an entire quarter.
Time to listen and decide Latice's faith
It was time to change their approach. So Sarrah decided to make their DS an OKR (Objective and Key Results) for engineering and design, to avoid de-prioritizing it again.
So they planned to simply start with just the banner components. As soon as the team saw that work come up in their board, but their VP of engineering still was disappointed that this was still ongoing.
What she realised is she was not listening to both parties in the design and engineering department. Her VP of engineering was hoping the work would stop until everyone was onboard for the whole dedicated effort of building the Design System.
Ultimately for her, taking too much felt like doing their team a disservice. So she decided to talk to her VP of engineering and listen to all of her concerns, realising it has to stay as a bold, big effort, and hence it would need to be pushed to 2023, where they will have a dedicated team to make the empress a reality.