Patrycja
Rozmus

Senior Design Leader

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THE BEST TALK award

Multidimensional Design Systems

on Zeroheight Design System Awards 2023

on Zeroheight Design System Awards 2023

on Zeroheight Design System Awards 2023

Patrycja, a seasoned Design Leader with over two decades of experience, not only founded Pencil, the Brainly design system but also built high-performing teams that consistently delivered top-quality products beyond Pencil. Her strategic contributions were vital in scaling staff and products for Brainly - the world's largest online learning community spanning 35 countries and 11 languages.

Her secret sauce lies in predicting trends and overcoming (not only) technology constraints with creativity, connecting people, fostering empathy, practicing authenticity, and inspiring the best work, allowing herself and her team to have fun while getting there.

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

Design system at Brainly is named Pencil.

I think that might be the first public announcement of the fact… Pencil was put into maintenance mode a few months ago, and my Design Foundations and Strategy team, including the Design System team, was let go along with over 30% of Brainly's staff as part of a company-wide drive to achieve break-even status by the end of 2023. Sadly, it matched the trend of sacking design leadership roles from the organizations, as effectively, this is what we were there for.

However, I always strive to view the positive aspects of events, especially those beyond my control. To me, this decision also reflects the fact that our Multidimensional Design System has reached a level of maturity with a comprehensive set of documented design decisions, guidelines, processes, and tools that enable the company to function using it without further active development while still delivering cohesive, functional and beautiful products. Before the layoffs, we also managed to deliver directional designs of the most critical product touchpoints showcasing the full potential of the Pencil, which were enthusiastically backed by the company leadership and product designers, setting a standard and providing a benchmark for the future. Our design system work surpassed what any external agency might offer, creating a system for Products and Marketing with the Brand at the core of all systems. Not to mention, the whole team is fully trained in its usage and contribution processes.

What was the journey like getting to this point?

This tale is rich with details, twists, and turns—too expansive to confine to a brief response. To get the full narrative, click the link to my talk from last year’s Figma Schema:

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

We used a colorful palette of tools – Figma, StoryBook, ZeroHeight, the Pencil API, our custom plugins, and Dreams, to name a few. They've been loyal companions throughout our journey and remain in Pencil’s maintenance chapter.

OUR TOOLS:

Figma

Storybook

Zeroheight

Pencil API

Custom plugins

Dreams

Internal tool for measuring code

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

The system is open for contributions, and any designer working on the product teams can pitch necessary changes in the community meeting and lead the change. This partially federated model gives designers more ownership and a better understanding of the cost of the change.

On the other hand, one of the principles when creating Pencil was to keep it as a relatively simple tool that empowers its users to create infinite solutions, similar to a real-life pencil. It's a basic tool that enables designers, artists, students, and everyone else to create even complex solutions, with limits more on the side of the creativity of the pencil user. So, we avoided treating complex organisms as a core part of the system; they are documented only on the Figma library level, subject to frequent change.

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One of the principles when creating Pencil was to keep it as a relatively simple tool that empowers its users to create infinite solutions, similar to a real-life pencil.

One of the principles when creating Pencil was to keep it as a relatively simple tool that empowers its users to create infinite solutions, similar to a real-life pencil.

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

If the underlying vision is based on the undeniable reality of the company or community it’s built for, you always have something to return to—a strong foundation that repels fads. There were countless times when there was a push to do things "like design system X or design system Y," but we are neither X nor Y.

However, some strategies to achieve the vision might need to change, even well-established ones. For example, a core aspect of the vision for Pencil was to maintain an up-to-date shared language between designers and developers. Our in-house HTML-Sketchapp tool initially achieved this, which bridged the gap between the code style guide and design libraries. But as Figma emerged as a more prominent design tool, we were prompted to reconsider this approach, which previously centered around Sketch. After thorough benchmarking and research, we committed to the migration and sought alternative ways to uphold our vision of a shared language.

Consequently, Michał Skowronek, our UI Engineering Lead, began developing Dreams. This tool would enable us to translate coded components directly into Figma, maintaining the integrity of the shared language for future use. This pivot required additional manual efforts to preserve our original vision.

How does your team collaborate on the design system?

As mentioned before, the system's openness to its users' needs was the very essence of our approach. The process surrounding the system was designed to maintain a constant connection with the product needs through the community that was building it, supported by the core team of designers and engineers.

Ironically, this connection was the source of critique from some product and delivery managers who didn't see the value in their designers connecting with the broader design community and creating a tool for everyone on the team. But there were also opposite cases of product managers supporting our efforts. It often depends on the individual product designer's relationship with the system or workload.

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?

This metric best demonstrates the system's impact clearly and tangibly. The time-saving benefits of Pencil were substantiated by both quantitative and qualitative research conducted with system users. Therefore, estimating the ROI based on the number of components or users and a rough estimate of the time saved could also serve as a meaningful metric, particularly useful for illustrating the system's value to stakeholders.

So, ROI would be the metric I would prioritize if I had to choose just one; ultimately, this matters.

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

Non, je ne regrette rien.

Do you use any kind of automation or AI tools?

We used Dreams, an in-house tool built by Michał Skowronek, our UI Engineering Lead I previously mentioned. You can hear Michał speak more about it in his X Post.

Also, a shoutout to 👋 Olga Wysopal, who supported Michał as a Dreams Designer.

He also created the Depricator Plugin to alert our designers when they need to update a deprecated component in their designs from the library.

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

I believe in omnichannel and great experiences, so yes, I believe that multidimensional design systems are the future, along with the growth in the omnichannel customer journey management segment. Customers don’t perceive different touchpoints with a company as separate; for them, it is one journey. In my opinion, truly putting people first—overcoming outdated company structures, such as the separation of product and marketing, which are based on fragmented, short-term measures—will be the key to winning the market. Design systems can beautifully and effectively support that transformation. They enhance not only the cohesiveness but also the seamlessness and orchestration. The design system team should be a natural ally of the Customer Journey Manager. Of course, we can’t avoid discussing AI now, but isn't everybody talking about it? It’s almost too obvious!

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

That design and experience extend beyond the product itself; thus, design systems should too.

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

The most underrated aspect is connecting people. Design systems can be a place where all designers across the company meet and collaborate. The most overrated or misunderstood aspect is consistency. It is often perceived as a constraint when, in reality, it should serve as a benchmark for cohesion, offering a flexible framework that lives, evolves, and is continually refined by the community's best ideas to enhance customer experience.

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

Dan Mall! It would be pleasant coffee. I love Dan’s vibe and agree with almost everything he says. What can I say? I’m a shy hedonist 😄

Coffee with Dan Mall?

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

Take the time to learn about omnichannel experiences.

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

Honestly, I grew more interested in design leadership overall and see design systems as an essential tool of a design leader. Design leadership is my favorite thing. And naps with my cat, of course!

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I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the entire team behind Pencil. A special shout-out to Konrad Dzwinel, Patrycja Radaczyńska, Maciej Nowak, Dina Sabat-Sporysz, Dawid Lewandowski, Olga Wysopal, Michał Skowronek, Rafał Helak, Giga Khurtsilava, Michał Jałbrzykowski, Kay Kłos, Maciej Dziewiątkiewicz, Bartosz Adamczyk, Dominika Podgórska, Katarzyna Tobiś, Justyna Guła, Łukasz Krebok,  Magda Faszczewska, Ania Piosik and all the contributors over the years. You've accomplished amazing things, and I will treasure the memories of 'Pencil Happy Power' forever! Keep on doing epic stuff, Heart-Cores!

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the entire team behind Pencil. A special shout-out to Konrad Dzwinel, Patrycja Radaczyńska, Maciej Nowak, Dina Sabat-Sporysz, Dawid Lewandowski, Olga Wysopal, Michał Skowronek, Rafał Helak, Giga Khurtsilava, Michał Jałbrzykowski, Kay Kłos, Maciej Dziewiątkiewicz, Bartosz Adamczyk, Dominika Podgórska, Katarzyna Tobiś, Justyna Guła, Łukasz Krebok,  Magda Faszczewska, Ania Piosik and all the contributors over the years. You've accomplished amazing things, and I will treasure the memories of 'Pencil Happy Power' forever! Keep on doing epic stuff, Heart-Cores!

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the entire team behind Pencil. A special shout-out to Konrad Dzwinel, Patrycja Radaczyńska, Maciej Nowak, Dina Sabat-Sporysz, Dawid Lewandowski, Olga Wysopal, Michał Skowronek, Rafał Helak, Giga Khurtsilava, Michał Jałbrzykowski, Kay Kłos, Maciej Dziewiątkiewicz, Bartosz Adamczyk, Dominika Podgórska, Katarzyna Tobiś, Justyna Guła, Łukasz Krebok,  Magda Faszczewska, Ania Piosik and all the contributors over the years. You've accomplished amazing things, and I will treasure the memories of 'Pencil Happy Power' forever! Keep on doing epic stuff, Heart-Cores!

Patrycja Rozmus

Patrycja Rozmus

Patrycja Rozmus

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic

© 2022 - 2024 The Design System Guide by Romina Kavcic