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Getting design system customization just right

July 29th, 2019

I had a little rant in me a few months ago about design systems: “Who Are Design Systems For?” My main point was that there are so many public and open source ones out there that choosing one can feel like choosing new furniture for your house. You just measure up what you need and what you like and pick one. But it just isn’t that simple. Some are made for you, some makers want you to use them, and some just ain’t.

A more measured take from Koen Vendrik (consistently, the same Koen who just made a cool Jest browser tool):

… it’s important that you first define who a design system is for and what people should be able to do with it. When you have decided this, and start looking at the implementation for the level of flexibility you require, keep in mind that it’s okay to do something that’s different from what’s already out there. It’s easy to create a lot of flexibility or none at all, the trick is to get it just right.

The levels:

  • Zero customizability. Sometimes this is the point: enforcing consistency and making it easy to use (no config).
  • Build your own (BYO) theme. The other end of the spectrum: do whatever you want, fully cusomizable.
  • Guided theme building. This is baby bear. Like changing preprocessor values to change colors, but it can get fancier.