Building sandcastles alone

Every year, my family goes to Ocean City, NJ, and every year, I spend hours at the shore building exquisite sandcastles. (What can I say… I have a hard time sitting still.)

When we first started going 12 years ago, sandcastle construction was a solo venture. I’d carve brick patterns into the sides of the towers. I’d dig a huge moat to protect it from the tide. I’d even build multiple tiered towers and connect them via tunnels. I was obsessed.

Then I realized… it was all just me, off in my own sandcastle world. The old man and the sea, if you will.

This is exactly what it feels like when you’ve realize you’ve created a huge set of design system tools in Figma, but the rest of the team isn’t on the same page… er, beach. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re passionate about unifying your teams efforts and building with a shared design language, but feel like you’re not getting much traction.

Two pieces of advice: helps leaders and engineers understand the value of design systems, and help fellow teammates find ways to get comfortable with design systems work.

  • Leaders: like it or not, slide decks are the near-ubiquitous tool for communicating concepts to leadership; learn how to build good slide decks and tailor them to things that leadership tends to care about, like efficiency, consistency, saving money, and impressing clients;
  • Engineers: ease into design systems work by tackling naming conventions together (calling components and properties the same thing in Figma and your codebase); you might also start with a small project + a few components to learn the nuances of your product’s dev platform and deployment processes;
  • Fellow designers: find ways to get your design team familiar with good build practices in Figma (published styles libraries, reusable components, etc.); this could be smaller pilot projects, or educational initiatives like online courses, lunch-n-learns, or bite-sized Loom videos where you show off a cool Figma feature in less than 5 minutes.

I eventually realized that building a sandcastle kingdom was a lot more fun when I got everyone involved. Sure, it was a bit more chaotic, and I had to rebuild a tower or two after my 4-year-old Godzilla-ed them. But once I had tapped into their imagination and energy, our sandcastle kingdom exploded, and everyone — not just me — felt a sense of ownership and pride in what we had build.

So, the next time you find yourself perfecting the seashell radius on your Figma 'sandcastle,' stop and look around: are you building this for you, or could you incorporate more people into the process to bring greater overall value to the company and customers?

Jesse Gardner

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