Geri
Reid

Design systems and Accessibility Consultant

Geri is a design systems consultant from London. As design and accessibility lead on the NewsKit Design System, she worked with some of the UK’s largest newspaper and broadcast brands. Prior to that, she was design lead on the Constellation design system at Lloyds Banking Group and Principal on the systems team at Checkout.com. Way back, she built websites at UBS and Bank of America. She is a keen accessibility advocate, amateur writer, and documentation nerd.

NewsKit

Lloyds Bank

UBS

Bank of America

My background in design systems has been varied. I’ve worked on design systems that support thousands of consumers and some that support less than 100. Company sizes have ranged from around 2K to 58K employees. The smallest core design systems team I’ve worked in was 4; the largest was 20.

Currently, I work as a freelance consultant, so I’m a team of 1! 

Currently, I work as a freelance consultant, so I’m a team of 1! 

Can you walk us through the current state of the design system you're involved with?

I’m currently consulting at BPP, an education company undergoing a big digital transformation. I was hired as a Web Accessibility Designer. It’s exciting to see companies prioritising accessibility and hiring someone like me to instigate good practice..

I’ve spent the past five months setting up the foundations of BPP’s design system called Scholar. It’s been a lot of initial planning and‬‭ prioritisation to support product teams' upcoming releases.

Regarding practical stuff, I started working with BPP’s brand team to develop new colour ramps with accessible contrast in mind. I instigated a second layer of contextual tokens to give the system the abstraction it needs to support theming, then worked with designers and engineers to implement this. 

As we’re in setup mode, I’ve written a lot of component specs and a tonne of Jira tickets and I’m finally pulling everything together into a zeroheight site.

It’s been a while since I did the foundational setup stuff on a system, and it’s been really fun. I’m rolling off this contrast end of February, and I feel like we’ve built a solid foundation that will allow for future scale.

What tools do you use to build and maintain your design system?

The system at BPP is just getting up and running so everything is currently off the shelf: the usual Figma/GitHub for component libraries with Storybook and zeroheight to expose components and document. We’ve just had a talented new designer start looking at ways to automate a tokens pipeline.

Tools have improved since I last did a system setup. Leonardo took the pain out of creating colour ramps, and Tokens Studio and Figma variables did the heavy lifting on a token architecture.

OUR TOOLS:

Figma

Storybook

Zeroheight

Github

How do you balance the need for consistency with the desire for creative freedom among your designers?

Don’t start with a system! As designers, our job is to solve a problem for a person. Start by thinking through the journey to solve that problem. Get messy. The most innovative solutions come from a scribble in a notebook, not some pixel-perfect Figma file. If you start designing from the lego blocks your house will probably look the same as everyone else's.

↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️

Don't start with a system.

How do you stay true to your vision for the design system, even when faced with external pressures or trends?

For a system to work within a product org, it needs to align with the overarching objectives and the roadmap of product teams. Demonstrating measurable value over time helps. A system will never be truly successful without engaged senior stakeholders, though. I’ve worked on several projects where the design system has lost funding or the business has changed direction.

How do you ensure that your design system evolves with the changing needs of your users and stakeholders?

As a lead on a systems team, I always work in the open. My calendar is open – I work for the community, so you can see how I spend my time. In the past, I’ve opened up our design crits so anyone can see what the team is working on, and it’s important to regularly present back to the wider org at Town Halls and specialism calls. A weekly design systems forum or open hours is essential to offer support along with the usual Slack channel, Teams, or wherever your consumers hang out.

Be open to change and prepare to mix it up as the team and relationships with stakeholders evolve.

How does your team collaborate on the design system?

The most successful design system teams I’ve worked on have had close alignment between design and engineering. You need to come together to refine the backlog and for regular tech analysis and sizing sessions. I like a daily standup as it keeps everyone accountable and a regular retro to make sure everyone's view is heard. Also, a balance of quick catchups alongside uninterrupted work time is essential. 

In the systems team at BPP, we instigated a no-team meetings day once a week. It’s been such a luxury to have a whole day of focus time, and the team has been really productive.

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?

↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️

It’s a disappointing truth but no one outside the design system cares how many designers have detached your Figma component. ;)

It’s a disappointing truth but no one outside the design system cares how many designers have detached your Figma component. ;)

There is no perfect quant metric for measuring the success of a design system. Measuring individual components out of context is meaningless, and measuring a component consumed by a product is diluted by hundreds of variables introduced by the wider ecosystem.

Find out what matters to the business and aligns to the product org’s goals. Is the objective of this quarter to convert more users, to improve product accessibility or to increase performance? Can you track a metric that supports this? 

It’s a disappointing truth but no one outside the design system cares how many designers have detached your Figma component ;)

If you could go back and change one decision you made in your design system journey, what would it be and why?

I’ve been guilty of overcomplicating setup with waaaaay too much documentation. A design system can quickly become this monolith of technical docs and rules that are overwhelming for consumers. 

No one outside the team actually cares about the design system. They care about solving their problem as quickly as possible. If they can’t work out how the system can help them quickly and efficiently, they’ll just solve the problem locally.

Now, I’m a big advocate of ‘just enough’ documentation. Do consumers need more than a Storybook or zeroheight site? When you speak to engineers, who are often the primary consumers, they all want a component example and props table. I feel like the era of big, shiny design system sites is over.

Do you use any kind of automation or AI tools?

I use Chat GPT every day for writing and ideation. I’ve made a couple of GPTs that I’ve fed with design systems and accessibility sources, and I find it’s a useful starter for key points or ideas. 

While an LLM is good for broad knowledge, its limitations are context awareness. It can’t interact with your code or align with the unique constraints you’re working within, so answers are not always technically correct. You have to know enough to point out where it’s wrong. We’ll always need specialists.

↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️↘️

I’d love to see accessibility given priority, especially with The European Accessibility Act coming into force in 2025.

I’d love to see accessibility given priority, especially with The European Accessibility Act coming into force in 2025.

Where do you see design systems heading in the next few years?

More automation, tokens feeding a wider output range, smaller teams, leaner docs. I’d love to see accessibility given priority, especially with The European Accessibility Act coming into force in 2025.

What's one thing you wish more people understood about design systems?

How much time and front-loading is required to make a robust and scalable system. It’s a long game but if you have senior stakeholder support and a reliable team steering the ship it will be worth the investment long term. And please stop trying to apply business metrics to the foundational stages of a design system.

In your opinion, what are the most overrated and underrated aspects of design systems?

Most overrated are Figma libraries that designers obsess over. A design tool is useful to work through ideas and to prototype but customers will never see your masterpiece!

The most underrated is the people. Such incredible nerds building cool stuff who are always up for sharing and collaboration. I love the systems community.

If you could have a coffee chat with any person from the design (system) space, who would it be and why?

The great thing about speaking at conferences is you get to meet interesting people in the systems space. 

I’ve never met Nathan Curtis in person, though we’ve had the odd chat on Twitter. His foundational Medium pieces have just shaped so much of my design system technical learning, especially back in 2017/18 before there was much guidance out there. I feel like I owe him a coffee to say thank you!

Coffee with Nathan Curtis

What's one piece of advice that you would like people to remember from this interview?

Everyone’s design system looks fancier than your design system from the outside. 

What's your favorite thing to do when you are not in design systems?

I enjoy the little bits of magic that life is made from. I’ve lived in London for more than 20 years, but I’m still in love with the city and so thankful for the amazing friends and experiences it affords me. In winter, I tend to hibernate – read books and write – but in summer, I love London’s parks and pints on the pavement.

📘

📘

📘

🎡

🎡

🎡

🌳

🌳

🌳

Geri Reid

Geri Reid

Geri Reid

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic

Newsletter

Writing on topics such as design systems,

design process, design strategy. ✨

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic