ARTICLE: Lauren DeMarks

Moving to a new design tool? Time to optimize your design system.

As an EdTech product owner, you know that your team is only as efficient as the systems and processes you put in place to manage production. And those systems and processes are, in turn, shaped by the design and engineering tools you use. That’s one of the reasons why the decision to migrate to a new design tool is such a big deal. But it also means that switching tools — for whatever reason — represents a key opportunity to reevaluate and optimize your workflows.

That’s especially true when it comes to how your designers interact with your design system. You may have noticed that parts of your designers’ workflows and processes have been fragmented or inconsistent. At the same time, your design system itself may have grown a bit unruly, with outdated elements and incomplete or outdated documentation. The result? Your team isn’t functioning at its highest possible level. In fact, these very problems may have catalyzed your search for a new, more collaborative tool. 

And it’s true. A tool upgrade may help resolve some of your team’s process issues. But in order to take advantage of all those new features and capabilities, you’ll need to do more than just migrate to your new tool and continue on with business as usual. You’ll need to evaluate and optimize your design system — and all of your internal workflows surrounding it. 

How to Reevaluate Your Design System During a Design Tool Switch 

As you migrate to a new design tool, use the following tips to optimize your design system (and the workflows that surround it). 

Remember that your design system is being used by members outside your design team

As today’s tools continue to narrow the gap between your design and development teams, you must ensure that your design system works well for both parties. After all, design systems are an integral part of the process for both your design and engineering teams. But there are slight differences in what each team needs out of your system.

Your design and development teams’ processes are overlapping more and more. As a result, you’ll need to involve both teams in conversations about what new tools to adopt and how to evolve your design system. 

Start by asking both your designers and developers which aspects of your system are (and aren’t) working for them. Do your teams regularly experience challenges during overlapping process points, such as the design handoff? It’s possible that your new tool will resolve some of the pre-existing issues for you (for example, with better in-app documentation or communication capabilities). If it doesn’t, take the time to identify ways your design system can pick up the slack — and bake them into your new workflow. 

Optimize your system by identifying redundancies and time sinks in the old process

How much time do your designers spend trying to make sense of your design system (“which component am I supposed to use for this interface?”) rather than innovating more user-friendly interaction patterns? 

Moving your design system from one tool to another represents the perfect time to “clean house.” Of course, simply upgrading to a new design tool may offer some organizational benefits. At a minimum, your new tool should offer better file organization and faster, easier prototyping. 

Maximize these tool-related benefits by going over your design system with a fine-tooth comb. 

As you revisit each element in your system, take the time to remove any outdated or unused components. Make sure that each of the elements are up to date and accompanied by the documentation necessary to make design and engineering decisions. Remember, when parts of your design system aren’t defined, your team is forced to spend the majority of their time defining (and redefining) the boundaries of the system rather than pushing them.

For example, let’s say you have a particular flow that many members of your team regularly touch, such as a course registration flow. If your designers are forced to manually build out the flow each time they do something with it, they waste energy and risk introducing errors. Instead, build a definitive version of the flow — a single source of truth — and save it in your design system. 

Tidying up your design system yields long-term benefits in terms of both efficiency and innovation. It frees your team up to explore broader UX behaviors and iron out troublesome UX inconsistencies.  

Bake design systems documentation into the process

A well-documented design system means your designers don’t have to spend their precious time wading through UI details. Instead, they can focus their energies on innovating and continuing to push the envelope. But they can only do that with thorough, up-to-date documentation in place. 

Make sure your system is centralized and easy to update. Design systems require frequent updating. If it’s a hassle to update — requiring multiple file updates in various source locations — your team is less likely to keep all of your assets up-to-date over time. At the same time, you don’t want your design system to be so easily manipulable that it loses integrity over time. Thoughtful internal workflows are key to striking the right balance. Take this time to define your process for updating the design system.  

For example, you may decide to assign a design and engineering representative to each facet of your product. These representatives would act as the “gatekeepers” for that portion of your design system, including approvals.

However you decide to structure it, make sure your design system (and all of your related processes) are properly documented and then commit to updating them frequently. If possible, incorporate your documentation into your new design tool so your designers don’t have to chase down separate files or open a new program to find the relevant documentation.

Bonus: thorough design system documentation means less time redlining during the design-development handoff. 

With a little care and attention, your transition from one design tool to another can open up the door to a more efficient and effective design system — one that leads the way to increased innovation and a higher-quality EdTech product. 

  • Photo of Lauren DeMarks
    Lauren DeMarks

    As a UX designer at Openfield, Lauren combines her love of helping and connecting with others with her passion for design. She holds a BFA from Miami University in Graphic Design, as well as minors in Art Entrepreneurship and Interactive Media Studies. Outside of the office, she is very serious about ultimate frisbee. Having played on both the men’s and women’s teams in college, she continues to help her alma mater introduce young women to the sport she loves so much. Lauren has a thirst for travel, having lived and studied abroad in Luxembourg and state-side in San Francisco, and is committed to supporting products and services that contribute directly to environmental and sustainability issues.

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