Increasing design system adoption

Michelle Chin
Michelle Chin
  • Updated

Adoption is a common hurdle for design system teams and maintainers. However, encouraging adoption can be easier than you think with little effort.


What’s your adoption goal?

Adoption can mean different things for different companies and even different things between disciplines or teams. Some common adoption goals include getting people to

  • Use design or coded components in their work
  • Reference the documentation
  • Contribute to the design system

Determine your adoption goals to help identify your audience and where and how you channel your efforts.


Approaching the adoption effort

You can break down the effort into three parts:

  • Visibility—creating awareness of the design system as a way to get people ready to use it
  • Adoption—getting people to use the design system and make it part of their workflows 
  • Impact—measuring how well your system is adopted

As you consider the adoption effort, remember that people have different learning styles. And when creating change, people may need multiple ways of learning and understanding the new process.

Visibility: Go where the people are

The easiest way to gain visibility on your design system is to go where the people are. This means talking about your design system at existing meetings you may have or ones where you can be a guest. 

Some kinds of meetings or events include:

  • Monthly team/department meetings
  • Quarterly kick-offs
  • Design critiques
  • PM, engineering, or design-specific meetings
  • Scrum team meetings

Even if you have people who appreciate the design system and work, don’t expect them to invite you to a team meeting. It’s not that they don’t want to provide visibility, but it’s more that they don’t know adoption includes creating a lot of visibility around the design system. So, where you can, ask if you can join a meeting to share information. Most of the time, people are happy to have you.


Visibility: Make it an event!

People typically are more engaged with something when it’s a big “to do.” When I was a music promoter, our themed events were always much better attended than non-themed shows. 

If you have the budget, you can create a launch event to introduce your design system and spur adoption. Consider working with your marketing department for ideas on how you can make your event memorable. If you have a distributed team, you can take your launch “on the road” and do a road show. When doing road shows, consider virtually (or in-person) visiting the team during a time zone that’s friendly to them. Have a presentation that gives a high-level overview of your design systems and how you’d like them to adopt it (based on the goals you identified earlier.)


Adoption: Create champions

After you’ve created visibility around the design system, it’s time to get people to adopt it. One way to do this is through design system champions. These champions might be guild members, maintainers, or senior-level teammates. Whoever you choose, their goal should be to advocate and remind people to use the system. 

People adopting the system might need coaching on the available components. Champions can mentor and remind designers and developers to leverage components during design/code reviews and critiques. It’s also an excellent opportunity for senior-level teammates to mentor other designers.

Champions should also lead by example, where they can call out which components they’re using and why. If your system is open for anyone to contribute, your champions can suggest when other designers or developers might want to contribute a component, an update, or a variation.

Find ways to celebrate your champions or highlight when team members lead by example in adoption. It’ll help inspire others to adopt it too. You can consider gamifying usage and providing giveaways, swag, etc.


Adoption: Build it into the process

Until it becomes part of your organization’s natural process, building the habit might take some effort. One fundamental way to help with adoption is to have your design system well documented. When people can rely on your zeroheight styleguide and feel confident with it, they’ll use your design system more. (Which is also why it’s essential to keep it updated!)

Design and code reviews can include a line item to double-check that the designer/developer used components from the design system. Just a quick line item can help get people into the habit.


Impact: Measuring your adoption

You can set goals based on how many (scrum) teams have fully adopted the design system. But to help articulate the value of your design system, capture how well your design system has been adopted and the business impact that makes. Before you start your adoption effort, measure a baseline of its current usage. Then as time passes, check in with these measurements. 

For design teams that use Figma, you can use their analytics to get a sense of component usage, detachment, and more. You can conduct code audits to see component usage on the developer side. For zeroheight, you can connect analytics tools to see how frequently people access areas of your styleguide.

Overall, you can measure adoption impact based on how quickly new hires onboard with the system and can start coding/design. Consider what metrics your organization values and tie in ways to measure based on that.

Not only does capturing this data help you understand how well the adoption process is going, but it also helps demonstrate the value of the design system overall.


What are other ways to increase adoption?

We’d love to hear how else you might have inspired adoption with your design system. Feel free to let us know here or on zheroes, our zeroheight Slack community. If you’re having trouble or facing other challenges, let us know. We’re happy to help!

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