Onboard new contributors to your design system

Brienne Wong
Brienne Wong

When you get a new contributor (e.g., designer, developer, content writer, etc.) for your design system, they must become knowledgeable on the behind-the-scenes work before contributing. A good onboarding process enables new contributors to understand the contribution process confidently. It also reduces feelings of overwhelm when working on something that widely impacts teams. Discover tips on creating an onboarding process for new contributors and setting them up for success.

Why onboarding is essential for new contributors

While the contributor may already be familiar with the design system, the onboarding process will enable them to learn the contribution process quickly. It is the best time to help a new contributor build confidence in using the system. It also allows a design system team to build trust in the new person’s abilities. With proper training, a new contributor can avoid making mistakes that will have a widespread impact on product work.

The onboarding process for contributors

These are some best practices for onboarding new contributors to the design system.

1) Leverage zeroheight’s resources to teach your new contributor

We have resources to help them understand how to use the platform, including:

  • our introduction to zeroheight article, zeroheight 101
  • the Help Center section in our Learning Hub that explains how to use the zeroheight features
  • the Guides section in our Learning Hub that has best practices for creating, maintaining, and scaling a design system

Because zeroheight’s resources are available, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and create training documentation. You can focus on explaining internal processes and workflows by leveraging our resources.

2) Document the essential things and make them easy to find

You can centralize everything by keeping the critical information in your zeroheight site! These would be:

  • your team’s communication process for announcements and updates
  • list of tools the design system team uses and how they’re used
  • your team’s decision-making process

3) Pair a new contributor with another contributor.

The design system buddy can level-set expectations for the new contributor and walk through workflows. The new contributor can shadow their design system buddy’s work and try making updates under the person’s guidance until they’re comfortable working independently.

Elements to have in your design system for new contributors

As you onboard them, make sure your onboarding includes the following:

  • a defined roadmap that demonstrates the target state of the design system (use Tables to set it up)
  • templates to make it easy for contributors to replicate pages quickly
  • styleguide pages that list your libraries and processes for contributing (use Shortcut Tiles to link to pages)
  • design system principles that articulate:
    • the design system values
    • the design system’s audience
    • the reason for the design system

New contributors will have the proper foundations to grow their knowledge and ramp up to work on the design system.

Final thoughts

Onboarding is a critical element of a design team’s growth in setting your contributors on the path to success. Even if it’s not perfect from the start, you can iterate on it. Set up regular retrospectives with your team and new contributors to assess and improve onboarding. Once you’ve trained new contributors, they can start adding to the design system and increase its usability for everyone.

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