A couple of weeks ago I spoke at Front in Zurich on design systems. It was a new talk where I tried to pull together some of my concerns I have with our current thinking of what constitutes a good design system in this industry.

It’s true many design systems are the blueprints for manufacturing and large scale application. But in almost every instance I can think of, once you move from design to manufacturing the horse has bolted. It’s very difficult to move back into design because the results of the system are in the wild. The more strict the system, the less able you are to change it. That’s why broad principles, just enough governance, and directional examples are far superior to locked-down cookie cutters. Sure, the latter will get you further and faster in the short term, but the former leaves scope for evaluation, iteration, and creativity.

What we need in our design systems – to quote Otl Aicher – is:

... a strictly designed grammar, the system allows free, playful application.