Tobias
Oberpaul

Product Owner, Design Systems at Deutsche Bahn

Tobi is the Product Owner and Lead at DB UX Design System, which is the foundation for digital products at Deutsche Bahn. Tobi's work involves managing the DB UX Design System and coordinating requirements with group-wide stakeholders. This includes creating the project plan upon which the system's further development is based. Tobi collaborates closely with an agile team of UX Designers and Developers for future updates.

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

Deutsche Bahn is a huge German group with many different companies, including countless digital products and services for our customers and employees. With everyone trying to solve various problems and develop innovative solutions, you can imagine that we have many of them. The only issue is that sometimes we get different solutions to the same problem.

We built the first UX guides to implement a single source of truth and a set of standard solutions that we can work on and improve together, which evolved into the current DB UX Design System. We are now working on best practices, patterns, a core component library for designers and developers, and even more extensions with more profound business logic.

The core design system team comprises a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, UX Designers, and Developers. In the future, we plan to add a Design System Manager to help the PO gather and process the various requirements for the system and different Design and Development Advocates to help product teams get started working with the Design System.

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

We use a custom CMS solution to document our design system.

OUR TOOLS:

Custom plugins

Custom CMS

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

The key to both is a deep understanding of the needs of the design system user. We regularly talk to different product teams and ask them about their current issues. If we find similar problems, we get everyone together to talk about it and find a solution that we can work on together.

In addition, our aim was for the core of our design system to have a flexible foundation. One that allows you to build solutions creatively without breaking any system logic.

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Our aim was for the core of our design system to have a flexible foundation.

Our aim was for the core of our design system to have a flexible foundation.

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

What everyone needs to understand about a single source of truth. It’s not always about finding the perfect solution to a problem. The first step is implementing good communication and the right mindset to compromise.

My first reaction when someone criticizes the design system is not defensive. I ask them, "How would you do it?" to better understand their point of view.

After that, I give them more in-depth information about why we decided to do it as it is. Sometimes it is just a matter of empathizing with each other. When everyone feels heard and can talk about their ideas, this is the best way to create not only excellent solutions but also the willingness of everyone to use and improve them together.

How does your team collaborate on the design system?

Our key to a successful design system is shared ownership. We have a dedicated design system team that not only builds the core but also the framework of the system. 

In addition, we have different expert teams working on extensions for the systems with even more complex solutions and more profound business logic.

We are regularly in contact with stakeholders and product teams via shared meetings like weekly or monthly and via our DB UX Community, where various employees discuss our shared solutions.

A design system is a product for all of us, and everyone should feel involved in the process.

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

I used to think we had to build something to prove we had a solution to help the products. Before building something, I've learned to start by talking to as many potential system users as possible. Try to understand what needs to be done, be bold, and ask for feedback or help.

A design system is a product for all of us, and everyone should feel involved in the process.

Do you use any automation or AI tools?

We don’t use any yet, but I’m looking forward to what will be possible in the future to get even more efficient.

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

AI will have a profound impact on the capabilities of design systems, not only on the way they get built but also on the way we use them in our daily work.

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

Design systems aren't limitations; they're a common language. A design system is a way to connect with different experts in your organization and beyond, talk to them, learn from them, build solutions together, and repeat. It's a continuous cycle of improvement.

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Design systems aren't limitations; they're a common language.

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

It’s not one specific person; I would enjoy getting in contact with even more design system teams of more prominent companies to share learnings and probably even work together on a shared solution. 

It’s about exchanges with like-minded people, good communication, and willingness to compromise. It’s about improving together.

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

It’s not about finding the perfect solution. It’s about exchanges with like-minded people, good communication, and willingness to compromise. It’s about improving together.

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

As well as working on the DB UX Design System, I'm also part of the Design Ops and Community team. I like to improve every aspect of our daily life within digital product development at DB. What tools do we use? How do we inspire and learn from each other? How do we make a new employee feel welcome and ready to start? These are just a few of the many questions I ask myself. I find fulfillment in creating a future environment where we can all build unique products and have fun doing it.

Tobias Oberpaul

Tobias Oberpaul

Tobias Oberpaul

© 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