Structures and incentives

I recently started reading Recoding America by Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and co-founder of the United States Digital Service. The book explores the messy chasm between policy intentions and actual incomes in government digital services.

It’s filled with examples of dealing with complexity, both organizational and technological — a relevant topic for design systems work. I’ll write more about the book when I’ve finished reading it, but I wanted to share this passage:

When systems or organizations don’t work the way you think they should, it is generally not because the people in them are stupid or evil. It is because they are operating according to structures and incentives that aren’t obvious from the outside.

Large organizations stand to benefit most from design systems, but by definition, large organization are made up of a lot of people. If you want to improve the process of building digital products at your company, you can’t just think about the technology implementation.

You have to consider and account for the structures and incentives that drive people.

Jesse Gardner

Up Next: Keep your variable names as simple as possible

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