Thinking about design systems as superglue.

Thinking about design systems as superglue.
November 2, 2022

A few weeks ago John shared some thoughts on “glue people”, he says they…

connect disparate efforts in the org, provide the “glue” that holds initiatives together, think about the whole vs the parts.

Which reminded me of Helsinki Design Labs and that Glue is one of their strategic design principles

Design has always played the role of glue: blending together a mix of hard constraints like budget, manufacturing tolerances and material efficiency with cultural sensibilities and symbolic meaning into a single outcome. Acts of strategic design glue together multiple forms of value, multiple professions, and multiple sectors. We synthesize inputs so that a multiplicity of ideas and ideals can coexist in a single proposition, be it a product, service, or system. Design is the glue.

Design Systems bring multiple types of these connective “glue” layers together.

The tangible, implementation layer of design systems are the assets, libraries and guidance that provide shared understanding, efficiency, and consistency for building products.

But/and there is also the nature of the layer of work around design systems — the system team often acting as a researcher, facilitator, and connector across multiple teams. The people working on the system provide a wider perspective and can help synthesize horizontally across more focused product team areas.

This gives design systems a unique view that few others in an org have, and can be expressed in less tangible “design system elements” like…

  • Programs or processes for better cross team collaboration.
  • Tooling to easily discover and understand what others are working on.
  • Aligning the org around design quality or performance standards.

Design system guidance, assets, and libraries are glue.

Systems minded people with their collaborative relationships and broader point of view are glue.

The processes they can enable that influence even beyond the system itself are glue.

Design systems are superglue.