Bukalapak Design
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Bukalapak Design

What I learned from 6 months leading a design system for a leading e-commerce company

First peek of Bazaar — Bukalapak’s design system

#1: Learn from the past before start on anything

Before we started developing the new system, we dug around to see if somebody else ever attempted to make a system like this in the past. We were afraid that we might be “wasting” time with this investigation, but it actually unearthed a lot of common challenges that informed our future decisions:

  • No single source of truth
    Every other designers collected their own sort-of UI kit and share it in their own circle or team. This creates a lot of duplication efforts and sometimes, there are a couple of different component to solve the same design problem
  • Inconsistent standard
    Most developers created their own mini component library. They did this because it made their job easier in the short term. However, this contribute into a huge inconsistency and inefficiency within our product
  • PDF documentation
    Some good folks actually attempt to make a documentation in a PDF format for others to reference. Unfortunately, this was not quite successful since people are busy, they have their own deadline, and the PDF is super hard to find, like, “In which folder was that again?”
Left: Documentation on PDF format | Right: Sketch UI Kit

#2: Make the invisible works visible

In the early stage of building design system, the team will often work in the background for foundational things that cricital to get them right so that they can be built upon. Basic questions like “What is our workflow when making a component?” or “How do we give update?” or “How do we prepare ourself with the new redesign?” or “Is the mono-repo better?”

#3: Create a workflow and articulate it

You want your team to be autonomous and empowered. As a lead, all I can do is to make sure the preparation and the strategy are clear. Then, take the step back.

  • What is the primary way of working for my team?
    You can determine this through a 1 week sprint and document the overall process. Don’t forget to constantly iterate on this!
  • What are common situations my team faces?
    If you watch closely, you will notice a frequent and recurring questions that occur within the team. If it’s keep coming back, you need to do something about it. Find a way to solve those situations in more intentional way; e.g. by determining key principles on how the team should make decision
  • What is the definition of done?
    Due to the complexity, some tasks can end up being quite vague. Articulate the definition of done clearly to reduce uncertaininty and inefficiency.

#4: Start with centralized team to pave the foundation

Strictly speaking, this point may not always be true. However, we decided to use a centralized team model to get things moving and clear government first. In our case, we see a few benefits:

  • There is a clear ownership, so there is someone to be accountable to move things forward
  • The team can see a bigger picture, so when we make a decision, it is deliberately to benefit the whole organization
  • The team have more time to think about small things, like standardization and how to communicate them
  • People in the organization know where to go if they have issue or idea about design system
  • People outside of the design system team don’t always think contribute to design system is part of their job. “Yeah, it’s somebody else’s problem.” Solving this challenge requires a proper change management approach to embed it in the DNA of the company
  • It’s challenging to transition from a centralized team model to more a distributed one as it is required to evolve the system
  • The core team run to a risk of working in sillo, althought this can be mitigated by constantly reminding them of the big picture and prepare an environment where people can collaborate
  • Potential to be a bottle-neck for the whole company if not given the proper resources

#5: Cohesive not consistent

We introduce a snowflake component. We actually embrace them! This term come from my previous colleague, when there is something off he will goes, “It feels like a snowflake experience.”

The intention of design system is not to stop people from doing. Design system is exist to help people work faster. Sacrifice control and embrace chaos when necessary

To tame down the chaos, we will do an evaluation periodically to see which snowflake components can be replaced and which can be promoted as a general components.

#6: Observe, communicate, collaborate with teams

Yes, it is not as smooth as I would like it to be for now. But optimizing collaboration among teams is always a continous process.

#7: Get buy-in from other functions and work together

I have always worked under the belief that design shouldn’t only be done by designers. Everyone working on a new product or service plays a role in shaping the design!

Designer design. But a good design is almost never created by a designer working in a vacuum.

We have to work together with the other functions to not only get their buy-in, but their feedback and opinions as well. This helps shake us out of our bias and forces us to look at something from a different perspective. Pumping out designs from the “design” organization alone won’t work. Once we have conversations with other functions and align on what are the important criteria and why, we feel the distribution of design ownership starting to spread.

What’s next for us

We are very happy with what we’ve produced in these first 6 months. But for us, this is just a 10% of the whole picture and we can’t rest on our laurels! We still have a lot of work to do, but it is important to take breaks every now and then and recognize your accomplishments and how far you’ve come.

Get in touch

You can reach me out on Twitter or via email to budi.tanrim@bukalapak.com
We are hiring for senior positions: Senior Product Designers, Senior Content Strategist, Senior iOS Developer, Senior Android Developer, and Senior Researchers to build a stronger team, further develop our human-centric approach, and better product quality at speed. Join us on this journey!



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Budi Tanrim

I’m a Group Product Manager who works in GovTech. I share practical ideas and frameworks about product, design, and business. https://newsletter.buditanrim.co/