Bukalapak Design
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Bukalapak Design

You might need a Collaboration Ground for design systems

Enable system users to contribute to the design systems

How can we encourage people to contribute to design systems? That was a big question we had last year.

In 2019, two months after we launched our design system; Bazaar. I felt disappointed. We have 50+ designers and 800+ engineers who constantly deliver a new product or improvement, yet, no one contributes to design systems. Without meaningful contributions from the system user, the system is stuck in the idle mode and won’t evolve.

Without meaningful contributions from the system user, the system is stuck in the idle mode.

Low contributions meaning… low inputs for design systems.
Low inputs meaning… fewer improvements.
This slows down the evolution of the design language.

Human talk, not system talk

We were curious. We listed down questions and assumptions for research preparation. We wanted to talk to the system users, the human. We interviewed 6 designers and 6 engineers. The findings were a slap in our face.

One of the interviews we did remotely

Findings: Lots of misexpectation, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation

From the interview, we found…

  • A lot of people didn’t know if they can contribute in the first place as we expected. Many engineers express they are more than willing to contribute, but didn’t know it is possible.
  • The company is moving fast and every project has a tight deadline. Designers busy getting things done. So, no one will proactively reach the design system out of the blue, like we secretly hope.
  • Designers hesitate to ask a question in our Slack channel because the design systems team usually asked them back with the intention to clarify and gain context. However, this interaction makes designers felt like we’re challenging and slowing them down.
  • And more! I don’t want to bore you with all of them.

These are just a few of the root causes of why low contribution happened among other findings we found. At this point, I said to myself, “Well I forget about the people and was so focus on the systems.” We neglect the experience of the system users. Talking to the users was one of the best decisions we did as a team.

Enter Collaboration Ground

Creating the experience to contribute

Armed with these insights, we started to brainstorm. What would better experience for system users to contribute? We knew the discussion must be quick and the timing must work with their schedule.

One of the ideas we had: what if anyone can book 40 minutes to have a session with us in front of the whiteboard? So we tested it. We looked for designers who just started their project and are willing to try this. Three designers signed up.

Storyboard of the experience

The result was positive, the designers and the system designers able to gain context quicker and started to appreciate each other’s perspective. It also unlocks the system thinking for many designers.

I started to understand what to consider when creating a component and the importance to keep it scalable. I really love this collaboration ground. — Designer

Making it official: Collaboration Ground!

After we launched this internally, we got 20 designers enthusiastically signed up within a month. We start to collaborate better. Sometimes designers will bring their engineers or content strategist to be included in the discussion. This interaction brings a lot of new perspectives.

This session is super fun! It really bring us closer together, now I feel like we’re all Bazaar designers. — Designer

One of the Collaboration Ground sessions

Making it remote and asynchronous friendly!

We also enable people to propose components asynchronously in Figma. In Figma, designers will drop their ideas with rationale, explain the context, and notify us. They can choose to book a session with us too if it requires more elaborate discussion. Otherwise, we’ll just help navigate, discuss, and let them contribute naturally.

We glad we have this. Now due to the novel COVID-19, the operational still up and running.

Final thoughts

I hope this inspires us to not neglect the experience for people who use the design system and empathize. We should start with the people.

While the collaboration ground works as a solution in our company. I highly encourage you to start talking with the system users. There might be a unique need in your company and a unique culture you are about to uncover.

Let’s have a discussion! Here’s my Twitter, LinkedIn, or read the shorter form of writing on my blog. I’m currently writing a book for design systems.

Big kudos for Barata and Mila! Thanks to Ibnu, Afnizar, and Danang for the support as well!

Best,
Budi | buditanrim.co | I’m on Twitter: buditanrim

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Budi Tanrim

Budi Tanrim

buditanrim.co — Head of Design in Indonesia education civic tech. Previously: Bukalapak, Shopify. Other clients: Yahoo, Palantir, Marvelapp.

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