I’ve been thinking a bit recently about an article by Cap Watkins I’d read some time ago, in which he talks about the “decision tree” his team used to interact with their design system. He’s describing a process allows him—and the designers he worked with—to decide when an existing pattern needs to change, when they can deviate from the design system, or when a new pattern needs to be introduced. It’s a very good article, and worth your time.
Here’s another one: Lisa Maria Martin’s “Please keep politics out of your talk”. Lisa Maria wrote the post a couple years ago, and I return to it every few months. In it, she talks about requests—requests from colleagues, from strangers in our industry, from conference organizers—to keep “politics” out of our work, and out of our conference talks.
I’ve been thinking about both of these articles recently, because I think they’re similar in one important respect: they’re both about context.
Take Cap’s essay, for starters. He’s focusing not just on the design system, but on the people who interact with it. And I think it’s important that the workflow he describes—the “decision tree” he mentions in the title—is one that wasn’t handed down from on high, but one that emerged from how the team worked.
Lisa Maria’s starting from a conference talk, not a pattern library, but she’s still trying to look at the broader environment that surrounds it. After all, design is a political act. And the decision to pretend otherwise is, in itself, a political act: it’s a tacit endorsement of the status quo, one that privileges the comfort of the powerful. She argues that we have to understand this dynamic, and to remember that many people’s lives have been politicized due to their gender identity, their religion, their immigration status, who they love, and on, and on.
Too often, I think, our industry focuses on the artifact—the design system, the conference talk, the mockup, the software library, the development framework—without looking beyond it to the larger forces that shape it. And I’m always grateful to articles like Cap’s and Lisa Maria’s for the reminder that I could always use a broader perspective in my work.