Demonstrating expertise in design systems

Every week, I try to schedule a couple of mentoring sessions. I don’t charge for these sessions, partly because I enjoy paying it forward from the mentoring people gave me over the years, but partly because I find great value in discovering where people need the most help.

One question I get asked a lot, especially by people looking for work, is how to showcase design systems expertise and work. Not everyone gets the chance to build an entire design system from scratch, especially since DS work is often the endeavor of a large org and the real value comes from connectedness between teams and tools.

If you have worked at a big org with a robust design system, and you’re allowed to talk about your work: start there. How did the connectedness benefit the org? What role did you play?

But if haven’t gotten to work on a large scale design system project, you can still flex, even if you’ve only built out parts.

  • Show off the piece of the puzzle you’re good at. If you’re great at Figma variables, show that off. It’s not the whole design system, sure, but there’s an org out there that needs someone who’s good at Figma variables, and talking about that helps you find them.
  • Outcome is good, but process is better. Talk about what led you to make decisions about the work. How did you decide on specific components? Why those props? How did you decide which to build and which not to? Helping teammates, managers, and leadership understand decisions is not a small part of this work.
  • Show improvement. Share any feedback you received and how you iterated upon it. Even if you work on isolated parts of a system, feedback shows collaboration and responsiveness. That’s why releasing open source tools and resources you create is such a great idea; it can create a clear feedback loop between you and real people using them, which is very much like design systems work in an org.
  • Proof is compelling. Can a hiring manager interact with a Storybook instance you set up or “Open in Figma” a UI Kit you’ve designed? Even simple demos can show that you at least know how to do the work and can amplify the real-world applicability of your work.

Remember, it’s not about the size of the system (in fact, I recommend starting small, but the impact of your contributions. Even if you’ve worked on parts of a larger design system, you’ve played a part in shaping user experiences. Own it!

Jesse Gardner

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