Embryonic design system

Posted March 27, 2019 in Thoughts, Web Development


If given ~10 seconds, Nathan Curtis defines a design system as follows:

A design system offers a library of visual style, components, and other concerns documented and released by an individual, team or community as code and design tools so that adopting products can be more efficient and cohesive.

Nathan Curtis in Defining Design Systems

What about before that? What is a design system before it is officially released, when the code and design tools are either in planning, or usable by some but not all? Can it still be called “design system”, or does that indicate a maturity that isn’t there?

I think this might be an important question, and once again, I find that I need more words for the work I do. At PMC, our system is an embryo.

What do you call an “embryonic design system”?

We have some shareable repositories, but they constitute tooling that helps with building components – we don’t actually have shared components. What is it at this stage? A front-end framework?

My concern is that it’s hard to communicate the nuances to those who haven’t worked on it or who work in other areas of the business. A question I both love and that makes me cringe is: “Can we use the design system for this?” I say: “Welllll, not really….but yes, kind of, but yeah, no, not really.”.

A more detailed reply is something like: “We don’t actually have any shared modules, but referencing a module built with the system and using the tools we have so far will be better than ‘doing it the old way’.”

But yeah, I would like a word for “embryonic design system”.