Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As a product designer with years of experience in the tech industry, I’ve seen the power that design systems can bring to a team’s development processes.

Picture this: a team armed with a library of reusable components, freeing them up to think outside the box and explore uncharted territories. The result? A design process that’s not only faster but also consistent in delivering a seamless user experience and a strong brand image.

But, as much as we adore our trusty design systems, they can also have a downside. At times, they can slow down our design velocity — the speed at which we create and iterate designs.

As designers, we all want to create designs quickly and efficiently, without sacrificing quality or creativity. Enter design velocity, a metric that helps us track our design team’s efficiency and understand the impact of design systems on our design process.

Measuring the velocity of a design team can be a tricky task, but it’s essential for understanding the impact of design systems on the design process.

Here are a few ways to measure design velocity:

1. Cycle time

Cycle time is a measure of the time it takes to complete a single design cycle, from ideation to the final design. This metric is crucial in understanding the speed at which designs are produced. By tracking cycle time, teams can identify bottlenecks in the design process and make improvements where necessary.

2. Design iterations

Tracking the number of times a design is revised and improved can provide valuable insights into the speed of the design process. High iteration rates are generally considered a positive sign, as they indicate a fast-paced design process. However, it’s important to balance speed with quality, so teams should aim to find the sweet spot where iteration rates are high but the quality is not compromised.

3. Productivity

Productivity is a broad metric that can be used to measure the overall efficiency of the design process. This metric takes into account the number of designs produced, the cycle time, and the number of design iterations. By tracking productivity, teams can understand the impact of design systems on the design process and determine if changes are necessary.

For example, if productivity decreases after implementing a design system, teams should take a closer look to see if the system is contributing to the decrease in efficiency.

As designers, our ultimate goal is to create designs that not only look good but also function well and streamline the design process. Design systems seem like the perfect solution, right? A library of reusable components, a consistent user experience, and more time for creative exploration. But, sometimes in our quest to make the ultimate design system, we can fall into the complexity trap.

Imagine you’ve spent countless hours developing a comprehensive design system that covers all the elements your team needs. The system is extensive and covers every design detail you could think of. But, instead of speeding up the design process, you find yourself navigating the system and spending more time on maintenance than actually designing. Sound familiar?

The complexity trap can be a frustrating place to be. When a design system becomes too complex, it can limit a designer’s creativity and motivation. It can also lead to a decrease in productivity as the team spends more time navigating the system and less time designing. The continuous effort required to maintain a complex design system can also consume significant time and resources, leaving teams feeling weighed down.

But there are ways to keep our design velocity in check, even when working with complex design systems.

Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

1. Prioritize simplicity

Simple design systems are easier to create and maintain, and they offer more flexibility for designers to move quickly and iterate on designs. By prioritizing simplicity, teams can focus on creating great designs, rather than getting bogged down by the complexities of the design system. Continuously review and simplify your design system and watch your team’s design velocity soar.

2. Cross-functional collaboration

Cross-functional collaboration with development teams can also help to ensure our design systems align with the needs of both teams. This helps to reduce friction and improve velocity, as both teams are working towards the same goal. By involving development teams in the design system process, we can ensure that everyone is on the same page and that our design system supports both teams’ needs.

3. Agile processes

Lastly, implementing agile processes for our design systems allows us to stay flexible and respond quickly to changing requirements, while still maintaining consistency. Agile processes allow us to iterate quickly, test ideas, and make adjustments as needed. Hosting sprint meetings like design system office hours or retrospectives can ensure that our design system is always up-to-date and supports the needs of both teams.

Design systems can be a valuable tool for consistency and efficiency, but their complexity can slow down design velocity. A well-designed design system should amplify the velocity and creativity of a team, not inhibit it.

By prioritizing simplicity, fostering cross-functional collaboration, and implementing agile processes, we can ensure that our design systems work for us, not against us.

Thanks for reading!

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