Hey there, I'm Alberto, a product design manager. I've spent the last six years diving into design systems while juggling various leadership roles in different companies. Since 2021, I've been all about the design of systems game at Prezi.
In my nearly 15 years of designing products, I've also racked up over seven years of experience leading and growing design teams for fintech and digital product companies like ING Bank, Payvision, New10 (ABN AMRO), and now Prezi. I've worked my design magic in both Spain and the Netherlands.
Having a background in front-end development, I've made it my mission to foster strong relationships and collaborations between designers and engineers. This ensures that our products and channels maintain top-notch quality and consistency. Plus, I've set up the design operations, systems, and workflows for the teams I've guided. I'm super passionate about simplifying and jazzing up user experiences, especially in the fintech world, where I've teamed up with big banks, startups, and scale-ups.
How do you balance the need for consistency with the desire for creative freedom among your designers?
I've been shifting my perspective on design systems and encouraging teams to do the same. Historically, we used to view design systems as inflexible frameworks with strict boundaries. It was like trying to fit all kinds of products and teams into this "big, unchanging box." Naturally, this made teams feel stuck and limited by the framework.
In the past, I've even heard phrases like "We need you to be the design system police" or "You have to enforce design system adoption." Those comments got me thinking. First, if you need to call the police, something's not working right. Second, if you have to enforce the adoption, it means your design system isn't hitting the mark.
I've come to see it for a while now as a product that empowers other product teams. Product teams have a goal out on the horizon. It's in their nature to want to make quick progress, right? So, in this picture, a design system acts like a guardrail. It helps product teams stay on track, keeping them focused and providing support as they move faster and more efficiently toward their goals, all while making sure different teams stay aligned.
How do you stay true to your vision for the design system, even when faced with external pressures or trends (criticism or pushback against your design system)?
Adding flexibility to design systems is closely tied to my approach. When you stop thinking of it as a rigid framework and embrace flexibility, you'll likely encounter less pressure and resistance.
I also view it as a living ecosystem. It should be open to challenges, criticism, and pushback. This is a natural and healthy part of the process. It allows you to consider adjustments and enhancements, like accommodating or improving a new component or pattern your design system wasn't initially set up for. Even the most prominent design systems out there undergo regular updates. That's often because they're introducing new features for their user base.
Are you tracking your design system? If you had to choose one metric to measure the success of your design system, what would it be and why?
There are numerous ways to measure the success of a design system, and it depends on what you're aiming to demonstrate and track. This often aligns with the maturity of the design system.
I've explored various methods over time: monitoring adoption rates, tracking time-to-market, assessing the velocity of development and design teams, measuring implementation speed and percentage, and gauging satisfaction within both design and engineering organizations.
If I had to pick just one, I'd likely go with velocity.
It's often closely linked to overall satisfaction. When your teams can work faster, it typically means they're happier and more productive, an excellent indicator of a successful design system.
Where do you see design systems heading in the next few years?
I've noticed a surge in interest in design systems lately. It's encouraging to see the growing attention, the emergence of new groups, and increased visibility through platforms like yours. However, it still often feels like it's primarily a topic for designers, by designers.
There's been a gradual shift with more engineering perspectives on design systems appearing in specialized media and forums, but it's still limited. Ideally, the future will bring broader attention from various business areas, including engineering, product management, operations, marketing, and more.
I hope we drop the 'design' from the naming of design systems. Design systems could evolve into something that represents operational excellence across the board. This change requires designers to start speaking the language of business and expose design systems to a broader audience. It could lead to an even more significant impact and recognition.
What's one thing you wish more people understood about design systems?
Transforming the perception of design systems from a short-term project to a medium to long-term investment is a challenging endeavor. I've witnessed design system efforts and teams being discontinued because they didn't yield immediate, tangible ROI. In many cases, this is a result of challenges in communicating and demonstrating the long-term benefits and value of design systems.
It's essential for design system advocates to effectively communicate the potential return on investment, which might take time but can have a substantial positive impact over time. This includes improved efficiency, consistency, user satisfaction, reduced development time, and the ability to adapt to changing business needs more seamlessly. By conveying these benefits and aligning them with the organization's broader goals and objectives, there's a better chance of securing continued support and resources for design systems as a valuable long-term investment.
In your opinion, what are the most overrated and underrated aspects of design systems?
Visual design consistency. While it's undoubtedly important, it's not the sole focus of a design system. Many design systems originate from the need for visual consistency, but as mentioned earlier, they can cover and support many aspects.
Accessibility. Design systems can be a powerful tool for promoting and implementing accessibility across an organization's products at scale. It's not just a matter of doing it because it's the right thing; it also makes good business sense. Making products more accessible means reaching a more extensive user base, which can lead to increased revenue.
Additionally, in specific industries and regions, there's growing scrutiny and legal requirements for having accessible products and platforms. So, prioritizing accessibility is a win-win situation for ethics and the bottom line.
Prioritizing accessibility is a win-win situation.
What's one piece of advice that you would like people to remember from this interview?
🌟 Learn the language of business:
It's essential to broaden your knowledge and start speaking the language of business. Design systems have the potential to be much more than just about visual consistency. Understanding the broader aspects of your organization, such as engineering, product management, and operations, can help you realize the full potential of your design system.
🌟 Think beyond design:
Recognize that a design system can have a significant impact on various teams within your organization, not just the design team. Learning from other disciplines can give you a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impact.
🌟 Be unique and tailored to your organization:
Avoid replicating other design systems. While you can draw inspiration from other successful design systems, it's crucial to build a system that makes sense for your specific organization, product, and needs. Tailor it to your unique context and requirements.
What's your favorite thing to do when you are not in design systems?
Besides spending time with my family, I like to ride off-road motorcycles; it clears my mind and, unlike design systems, makes me focus on just one thing, which is not falling and my immediate surroundings. 🙂