Maintain a design system

Brienne Wong
Brienne Wong
  • Updated

Creating a design system that you can share with your company takes a lot of work, and your team should feel proud. Have a moment to celebrate, but keep in mind there's a little more work.

You want to implement a maintenance process to ensure adoption and consistent UI and build trust. A maintenance process ensures your design system is up to date and continues to be adopted and valued by all teams. Learn what you can do to ensure your team maintains your design system.

Value of maintaining your design system

Design systems aren't static and finite projects. They are products that grow and evolve. When you finish establishing your design system, you may feel tired and not want to consider maintaining your system. But, the work to maintain your system will be less involved than when you started your design system. Having a maintenance process will keep your design system adaptable to change.

The design system team and its users must collaborate to maintain the documentation, patterns, etc. The design system team makes sure the system is helpful for internal users. Those users inform the team about the usefulness of design system elements in the application.

Maintenance process

The maintenance process for your design system should be as frictionless as possible. When it's easy to maintain, contributors can make edits quickly. This ensures adoption and trust that it's a reliable single source of truth. These are some best practices for maintaining your design system.

Create a governance process

We recommend that your governance process addresses how the team handles changes and build into your workflow. From the start, it sets expectations for how effortless the work can be. Use your existing process and create a lighter version for maintenance to make it easy for your teammates.

Communicate frequently with users

Regular communication and collaboration with the people who consume your design system are crucial. Communication can include conversations about design system updates whenever they're needed. Hold regular retrospectives about the processes to ensure it's running smoothly for everyone to make updates. Embed communication points into your workflow and use many methods, such as meetings, announcements, or newsletters. This way, everyone can get all the information.

As part of your maintenance process, have an active contribution model so users can stay engaged. We recommend having a change request process so people can easily request changes to the system. After someone makes a request, the team needs to check it. Some requests may not be approved (e.g., an opinion on an edge case), and others will be approved quickly (e.g., a bug fix). Once the team decides, delegate responsibilities to team members to put in place.

Assess your design system regularly

A regular retrospective of your processes and an audit of your design system can help your team assess how things are and what could improve. Establish metrics to measure how the system is generally doing and how successful the specific changes were for team usability and efficiency. These can inform stakeholders about the design system's value and future roadmap work.

What you can do in zeroheight

zeroheight makes it easy to update your documentation. Here's what you can do to maintain your design system:

  • Connect your tools (Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, and GitHub) and easily sync your files without having to create separate assets in zeroheight
  • Keep a changelog of updates (use Tables to create one)
  • Notify people in Slack about new changes. You can announce updates in a dedicated channel or when you make a new release using our Slack integration. The Slack integration automates announcements for your team (available on Professional and Enterprise plans).
  • Update notes and Anatomy Diagrams to reflect any component changes
  • Use Status Tags and Callout Blocks to notify people of changes
  • Document your maintenance process and link to the change request form using Shortcut Tiles
  • Leverage Token Manager to make token management more straightforward

Final thoughts

Creating your initial design system is the most challenging task, but once you have a foundation, you can build on it. A maintenance process will keep your system in top shape for all teams. It will have an impact in the long run by ensuring adoption, consistency, and trust in your design system.

Was this article helpful?