We were all born to be the heroes of our own stories. And we become the villain when we abandon our calling to love others and choose to antagonize someone else living out their heroic journey.
The Essence of a Hero
I recently wrote a series of 9 posts that helped people to develop their hero personas in real life. Hero personas will only be found useful when you’ve done the work of loving your true self so you can genuinely love and serve others. The crux of this process was creating your personal moral statement. Knowing your identity is one thing, but how will you choose to live it out — especially when things get very difficult?
The Essence of a Design System
I also wrote a series of 5 posts about design systems. And design systems will only be found useful when you’ve done user research and usability testing to have a legitimate UI Library that warrants standardization. The crux of a successful design system is the team. Having a set of unified design standards is one thing, but how will you execute it if no one in the product team adopts it?
Where the Hero’s Journey and Design Systems Converge
The Hero’s Journey is the single source of truth for the protagonist to live a purposeful life filled with honor. A design system is the single source of truth for product teams to design, realize and develop a product. Both have stages. Both are systems. Both are sophisticated. No two systems are the same. And yet, both systems will fail if they don’t have at least 2 or 3 elements present.
Heroes cannot embark on a Hero’s Journey without a Call to Adventure and Crossing the Threshold. And product teams cannot implement a successful design system if it does not have a central UI Library and its related Documentation.
What’s the Point?
I want you to understand one simple, yet profound truth: Storytelling is at the heart of both the Hero’s Journey and Design Systems. Stick with me for just a moment. The hero of the Hero’s Journey is the one who “uses” the journey — whether that’s the fictional character and the writer himself, who takes on his own Call to Adventure and Crosses the Threshold into the Special World of magic, dragons and dungeons from the nib of his pen.
The protagonist of a design system can be the design token that’s gone on its own journey from leaving the Ordinary World as a simple component to becoming a purposeful element for a developer (perhaps the Master of Both Worlds), and it can be the developer herself — who wields were powerful Github repository with authority and sophistication.
My single source of truth is that stories can make or break a person. It can build an empire and tear down a conglomerate. And in this era of digital virality, this can happen with one single Tweet. If you are a designer, developer or writer (journalist, fictional, copy, UX, speech, recipes, etc.) I want you to know that the most important system or story that you will ever craft is: 1) Who you choose to become and 2) What you choose to leave behind.
You are the hero of your own story. You have to be. The villain designer that creates dark UX patterns for people to confusingly sign up for an email list may not rise to the occasion.* The antagonistic speechwriter that elegantly crafts double-speak and spins insanely like an expert disc jockey at a music festival may never find their way back.* The rogue developer who codes maliciously to invade privacy might miss his chance of redemption.* It’s up to you to choose to be the hero.
But Aren’t Stories In Everything?
Yes, stories are everywhere! However, I’m not telling stories as an auto mechanic, angel investor, glassblower, or barista. I’m telling stories as a designer fascinated with the inspirational power of Hero’s Journey, the persuasive power of Brand Stories, and the unifying power of Design Systems.
Excuse the pun, but Where do your stories lie? In what capacity is your Call to Adventure? How have you been living out the real hero narrative in your personal life? If you can find your True North — the eternal guiding compass that leads your heart to a single truth that will find in the woods when you’re lost or pull you out of the depths when you’re drowning — you can always become the hero again. The design system only saves the business. But its story can redeem its designer.
*And I believe it’s not too late for those who are currently acting as villains or antagonists of other people’s story. I invite them to choose to reframe their story as the antihero who’s simply taken a detour from their Hero’s Journey. There still is time to become the hero you once were.