By striking a balance between talking and listening, we foster the cross-pollination of ideas.

Depending on where in the process of cultivating a design system we currently are, a lack of buy-in from important stakeholders (such as other designers, engineers, product managers, or our superiors) may bog down our efforts considerably. Even if we understand the value of an effective design system intuitively, it's still a rather abstract concept and best explained using relatable examples, such as early victories and cautionary tales.

What our early successes look like entirely depends on where and how we start to cultivate a design system—the key takeaway is that we document them in a pitchable way and build up a repository of propaganda material we always have at hand.

Canvas! describes a pragmatic approach to intra-organizational design system advocacy. Some structural underpinning will help us to communicate our proposition consistently: A Living Handbook encourages us to articulate a design system mission, outlining the goals and values guiding our endeavor. It's also advisable to start compiling a shared slide deck containing our mission statement and a few vivid success stories right away so that we're ready to pitch our vision at a moment's notice. These can include projects in which we used components from our library to speed up product development, engineering handoffs we eliminated, and misconceptions we resolved through cross-functional mediation. What our early successes look like entirely depends on where and how we start to cultivate a design system—the key takeaway is that we document them in a pitchable way and build up a repository of propaganda material we always have at hand.

Architecting our guerilla campaign

Once equipped with some promotional material, we can launch our first campaign forays to test the waters and spark wider discussions. We keep in mind to not only promote and educate but also to listen and learn. As outlined in Win Friends, not Battles, understanding each other's struggles and considering them as opportunities for improvement lies at the very heart of Lean Design System methodology. Being responsive to input and feedback will make it much easier to convince coworkers—and ultimately improve the design of our system.

Whether we already have a working design system in place and aim to catalyze its adoption and development, or whether we just entered the ideation phase and want to recruit allies, there are several low-barrier formats we may consider for our canvassing purposes:

Establish design system office hours

A very straightforward way to start conversations is to establish a dedicated, weekly design system office hour, during which everyone is invited to come by, inquire us about our efforts and goals, and provide feedback and propose new ideas, or talk about specific pains and challenges. All it takes to launch this format is a note on a bulletin board, a sign on our office door, a visible blocker in our shared calendar, or an aptly named channel in our communication tool—and, of course, the commitment to actually be available for the duration of the time slot.

Hold sporadic, informal brown bag sessions

Brown bag sessions (or lunch-and-learn sessions) are best suited to quickly share and discuss current developments and recent experiences. They should be informal, uncomplicated, and enjoyable. If we invite coworkers to a brown bag session, we should prepare a focused and coherent presentation to maximize effectiveness and, more importantly, be mindful of our coworkers' time.

Develop and host training webinars

As soon as we have established a library of reusable components (e.g., in the form of a canonical UI Kit or a Design Tokens repository) or developed cross-functional workflows worth sharing with the larger team or organization, we should start considering webinars as an addition to our campaign. Planning a webinar is a rather time-consuming affair when compared to other canvassing formats—however, once prepared, a webinar will prove a powerful tool to address larger audiences. We can reach remote coworkers and record our sessions to make them available in a shared location. Naturally, we can extend our invitation to external freelancers and partner organizations. Any kind of design system webinar should illustrate the system's benefits using tangible examples. It should also provide the links and resources needed by participants to become active themselves. A proven formula is to start with a relatable problem or pain, followed by the design system's solution and finally, simple ways to apply the solution to other contexts.

The goals of design system canvassing

Let's take a look at what we're trying to achieve. To summarize our goals, we aim for:

  • Visibility: We want to increase the general visibility of our design system efforts.

  • Education and transparency: We want to make the structures and components of our design system more tangible and better understandable. We also want to educate ourselves and gather input.

  • Curiosity and desire: We want to make it desirable to become active and make use of our design system. We illustrate its value proposition using early victories as examples.

  • Sympathy and support: We want to make our design system likable. Interacting with the builders of the design system should be uncomplicated. There should be no obstacles between interested parties and our design system resources.

By aligning our campaign accordingly, our design system should be able to gain more and more traction. To build up momentum, we have to make sure all resources and documentation are easily accessible to everyone, enabling new allies to support us in our mission.

Where this tactic fits in

A Living Handbook and A Name and a Place both outline ways to make our design system more tangible early on and directly support us in our canvassing efforts.

A Living HandbookA Name and a Place

Authors and contributors

D. Kurfess

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