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Reflections from Design Systems Day 2023

Design System Day

by Charles Reynolds-Talbot

Read the team’s highlights and reflections from Design Systems Day 2023

We were thrilled to have had an active participation in Design Systems Day this year, organised by the Government Digital Service.

The event was split across two days. Day one was an in-person event in Edinburgh. Our very own Tash Willcocks, Design Lead (Learning and Development), was invited as a keynote speaker, with a provocation for the audience:

"Design systems don’t solve problems, people do"
Tash Willcocks On Stage At Design Systems Day
Tash Willcocks on stage at Design Systems Day

Tash discussed the intricate relationship between people and design systems, exploring how individuals shape design systems just as profoundly as systems influence them. From user feedback, ownership, to the organisation’s context, Tash delved into the dynamic interplay that defines modern design practices.

The virtual day two was attended by several members of our Interaction & Product Design team, gaining valuable knowledge and networking with fellow professionals in the field.

Here are some reflections on the day from the team.

Anne Chan — Senior interaction and product designer

My favourite part was that the content in the imposter syndrome session had 95% the same content as we did in our session that happened the day before Design Systems Day.

The talk on Fostering collaboration in design systems by James Carleton was interesting. They talked about the different stages of a collaboration journey, who to involve and when, and the importance of 'design systems are people'. Seeing his train of thought and their framework and structure to thinking about the journey (which included the unexpected 'crisis') was very relatable and gave thoughts to how we might adapt our approach going forwards

Martina Fuchs — Interaction and product designer

My highlight was Learning about scaling up user centred design by Laura Smith, which we're currently working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to achieve.  Laura used a case study and shared many similar struggles we’ve experienced in our project as well as how to overcome them. I’ve already started to apply these learnings in my project and share them with everyone working in the wider DLUHC team. 

Themes included:

  • Flexible but not bespoke

  • Clean up your hacks

  • Consider the whole

  • Pitch the process, not the product

  • Keep engaging with users

  • Look to the future

Nick Wall — Senior interaction and product designer

I heard how designs systems:

  • get compared to lego, as "a system of how to play, not just bricks” (their early slogan was ’system in play’)

  • can be hyperobjects, an "entity whose scale is too big or sprawling for any one person to truly appreciate" as we can’t always measure how they’re used, and set standards more than rules.

Ethan Marcotte talked about going beyond mobile first, and experiences that hop across different screens from watches to TVs. I’m also looking forward to task lists becoming a component.

Leah MacNamee — Interaction and product designer

I found the talk on Trauma informed design by Katharine Beer really interesting. They went through what trauma is and how understanding it can help us understand why people behave a certain way and how they may be reacting to their environment.

They raised some interesting questions about design choices, for example how error messages can be triggering, because of colour palettes or the language used. We as designers should explore different systems to create a safe experience for users exposed to trauma.

Chris Williams — Interaction and product designer 

It was fascinating to learn more about the history of the Task list pattern on GOV.UK which is something we use daily within our project. I hadn’t realised when I started the project that this was a feature that was still in Beta and had only officially been launched as a component part of the official part of the GOV.UK Frontend Toolkit on the day of the event! I’m really excited to see how this develops in the future and the benefit this will have for other government services.

Mathew Wilson — Lead interaction and product designer 

I very much enjoyed the historical context given to Design Systems by Ethan Marcotte (who coined the term responsive design) and the talk Design pattern histories by Vicky Teinaki. Listening to such experienced and well read folk gave important context to the day and helped it to feel less introspective and too narrowly focused.

Design systems play a crucial role in ensuring consistency and accessibility in public services, and we are proud to be a part of this important conversation.  Stay tuned to hear more about some of our own work on design systems with organisations like Parliament Digital Service in a future post.

If you want to continue the conversation on design systems or have a topic you’d like to discuss with our team, contact our Head of Interaction and Product Design, Charles Reynolds-Talbot.

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Charles Reynolds-Talbot

Head of Interaction Design

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