3️⃣How to run a design system pilot

👋 Introduction

In order to test how a design system will support the product in the long term, a pilot is run a product or a feature.

1️⃣ Choose a design system pilot

To find the right pilot, review products or features you went through during the discovery phase. After the review, score these against the following 8 factors (on a scale of 0, unlikely, to 10, likely) for selecting the best pilot:

  1. Potential for common components: Does this pilot have many components that can be reused in other products?

  2. Potential for common patterns: Does this pilot have many patterns that can be reused in other products?

  3. High-value elements: Even if uncommon, is there a component or pattern with high-business value that is the heart of this project? Elements that are integral to a flow or audience that has unusually high value for the organisation.

  4. Technical feasibility: How simple is a technical implementation of the design system? Is a large refactor required?

  5. Available champion: Will someone working on this product see it through and celebrate/evangelise using the design system (and even contributing back to it)?

  6. Scope: Is this work accomplishable in our pilot timeframe of [3–4 weeks] (insert your timing here)?

  7. Technical independence: Is the work decoupled enough from other legacy design and code that there are clear start and end points?

  8. Marketing potential: Will this work excite others to use the design system?

Work with the team (include product, engg and design) to score these features as accurately as possible.

Dan Mall has written about design system pilots and this scorecard here.

2️⃣ Identify components from pilot feature/product

Once you have identified a solid pilot candidate, reach out to the team that owns it and start scheduling time to walk through feature/product with them. Keep track of who you’ve talked to already and their general reception to working together.

Ask the pilot team to:

  • Walk you through what they’ve been working on and what’s coming up soon on their roadmaps.

  • Share their screens and take you through all the user flows/journeys.

As they’re showing you their screens, make a list of every component you see on screen. Look out for anything that could be a modular piece of design or code element.

3️⃣ Identify Initial Components to Pilot

  1. In the interface inventory list you generated before, highlight the components that appear three or more times.

  2. Find the overlap between the component list & components seen in pilot walkthrough to identify the first set of design system components.

This also becomes the initial guideline for which components go into the design system: if three or more teams need this component right now, it goes in the design system.

4️⃣ Outcome

You would have identified a pilot that includes components that will be used in other features or products also. This will help showcase the value of the design system quickly and also excite stakeholders.

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