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Invisible success

Eric Bailey has some great thoughts about why it’s tough to show success on a design systems team:

In a business context, design system work means numbers go down. Less bug reports, faster design iteration, shorter development cycles, fewer visual inconsistencies, smaller staffing requirements that enable folks to work on more interesting challenges, etc. All good things.

Unfortunately, contemporary business practices only reward numbers going up. There isn’t much infrastructure in place to quantify the constant, silent, boring, predictable, round-the-clock passive successes of this aspect of design systems after the initial effort is complete.

This is an interesting discussion because it’s hard to quantify what’s good work when it comes to design systems. For example, when I was on a team like that I would struggle to make the case for refactoring tons of janky and confusing CSS.

Ultimately I felt like I was good at the systems part—I could tell when there were too many similar components or when we should refactor something—but I was really, really bad at the storytelling part of design systems. And that kind of work is really more story than systems: explaining to folks up the chain why this seemingly insignificant series of tasks is an investment in the future. Or why this one tiny detail is worthy of our care today so we don’t have to worry about it later.