Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Aug 2018

Design, Design Systems, & Patterns

“Design” is a recognized topic in many corporate circles. The value of what design does for business has become the next and loudest crest of conversation. Some of the tones of this conversation are muted — design speaks to something “felt” but also “known.” Some of those tones are louder — for example, should some types of designers be credentialed, the dark patterns noticed after design is done, etc.. In all respects, the conversation is good to have. It speaks to a maturity of matter and form being a part of that identity of productivity. And at the same time, there are patterns design simply unveils, rather than it directs.

Design systems are another way to view this conversation. Design systems are a collection of patterns, components, and practices in which the teams who developed the system are saying, “here are the individual elements which make up the activity and perception of our business; if you are looking to reproduce the same results, follow alongside this template.” Design systems aren’t a formula per se, but they are elements which define a product which have usually been validated technically and in the marketplace. For the most part design systems accomplish this not by giving away the product, IP, or unique features of the company, but it does give way to the thought processes, creative methods, and sometimes a product very similar to the company core offering. If a company has a significant enough product, or is in a well-established marketplace, it is not uncommon to assume there is some design system (or branch of one) in place. At the same time, the lack of a design system doesn’t as much speak to a lack of design, but maybe a lack of being able to communicate the systems which led to the market being designed.

That said, before the design system can be put in place, and really, even before there can even be much design, there’s some pattern about the company and its culture which should be recognized. There are interdependent systems at play, before there’s something crafted or unveiled (re: design) to be spoken towards. Every crevice of the company can recognize and have a hand in crafting these items, but some will regard creativity differently than others. Design isn’t just what something looks like. A system that creates avenues for companies to empower themselves and others forward is very much a system before design — but may eventually get to a point where design can be talked about and maybe packaged into a coherent framework for others to validate, discuss, or build on top of. Pattern recognition is the responsibility of all in the company.

Design is the recognized topic, but pattern recognition isn’t as much noted. It doesn’t sound so “modern” even though design is nothing more than communicating that there was a pattern which was recognized. Enabling members of your team/org/company to become pattern recognizers puts them on the path of holding and maintaining substantial conversations which might result in communicating better design. And as that happens, design doesn’t just land as the “topic” but as something very core to how that company operates. Can design happen without a design system? Yes. Can you afford to have systems which aren’t able to be communicated by those who use them (not just those who build them)? No.