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  • Andy Schultz

The truth about design systems

At QuillBot, we focused on engineer's goals to what they wanted out of the design system. That set our course of action and started at the atomic design level. Storybook would make the design system accessible to all engineers. A milestone and achievement far beyond to the simplistic styleguide we started with.

Take a collaborative approach

Understanding users is a significant aspect of our work as designers and user experience professionals. We excel at comprehending humans in the field of human-computer interaction. Yet, we don't utilize that skill adequately to fully grasp the motivations and constraints our partners and cross-functional teams face. We also need to focus more on understanding and collaborating with our cross-functional partners in engineering and product management, just like we do with our end users.

Being a design leader in an engineering-driven company requires a deep understanding of engineers' motivations to successfully shift the culture towards user experience. Promoting a design system based solely on the benefits it offers is usually not advisable. The objective is to emphasize the values that are important to the design system users.

Start where progress is visible

One of the main areas of focus when we began discussions were the immediate surface level pain points on the site. Color, typography, components, and illustrations are just some of the elements. Followed by implementing the surface changes to low-risk pages that were outside of ongoing AB tests.

As progress advanced, a UI refresh was quietly taking place, ultimately replacing the existing design system. This change was well-received and would provide the site with a necessary update.

Adopting is what makes success, not finishing

My lead designer and I identified adoption as the crucial metric for success. Dealing with adoption metrics can be quite complex, and it's crucial to acknowledge that adoption rates may not always be within our control.

At QuillBot, a strong sense of urgency is ingrained in our culture and we use it to our advantage. Weekly meetings were held to review the design system, instructional videos were shared on Slack, documentation was improved, and StyleQ updates were rolled out every Friday. All the work was divided into easily understandable segments, enabling the team to learn at thier preferred speed.

Express your independence and strong opinions.

Operating as an independent team, StyleQ enabled us to make quick decisions and take a strong stance on our executions. The team functioned seamlessly due to their close collaboration. They established a unique startup culture focused on resilience.

They provided insights on style, code, and architecture. Several rejections stemmed from differing opinions. However, having strong opinions and understanding that it's impossible to please everyone was crucial for the team's long-term success. Making everyone happy from engineering, UX, and product management teams isn't the way to develop a system. Listening to your customers' needs is crucial, but ultimately, decisions should be made based on a comprehensive understanding of all available information, even aspects that other teams may overlook.

Having the freedom to be independent and express opinions is a privilege that not all design teams have. If you have the opportunity, seize it. Having strong opinions isn't a walk in the park, it's a daily challenge.

Building it right can change design

StyleQ is undoubtedly transforming design at QuillBot. It's provided us with the credibility that other teams want to mirror. StyleQ has elevated design quality for us and our customers. Thanks to the strong foundation StyleQ provided and the subsequent layers we've added, QuillBot is gracefully transitioning into a design-focused company with plenty of room for growth.

Your design system journey is ongoing, with a significant impact that extends beyond just the design system itself, potentially leading to the improvement of both the design team and the company.


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