I Who We Heard From Back to contents

We received 400 responses, including 86 from in-house organizations that use design systems.

Our survey was shared widely on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other channels by the web design and development community. By the time the survey closed, we received more than 400 responses.

We wanted to understand how internal teams, rather than agencies or consultancies, use design systems, so we chose to focus on respondents from in-house organizations that use design systems, rather than style guides or pattern libraries. This reduced our analysis to the 86 responses that inform this report’s findings.

Responses came from a variety of industries, organization sizes, and role types.

These 86 respondents came from organizations ranging from a handful of team members to those with more than 10,000 employees, and industries including education, finance, government, healthcare, entertainment, and retail. 87% of these respondents said they created their design system in-house, while just under 11% had help from an agency or consultant.

  • 58% of respondents were individual contributors to design systems (team members who may be developers, designers, user experience professionals, marketers, etc.)
  • 31% were managers
  • 7% were executive leadership
  • 4% were other

II Why Organizations Build Design Systems Back to contents

Design systems are thought to increase consistency and efficiency, and lead to gains in accessibility and team onboarding.

For our respondents, strong motivations to build a design system included the desire to increase user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) consistency, design and development efficiency, and code reusability. Another somewhat motivating factor was brand consistency.

When asked if there were other reasons for pursuing a design system, three mentioned web accessibility, and two noted that design systems reduce dependence on tribal knowledge, making it easier to onboard and educate new team members and vendors.

Which of the following, if any, motivated your organization to establish a design system or a pattern library?

86 responses
Rate 1 to 5
Categories More Motivation Less Motivation N/A
UX/UI Consistency 92% 8% 0%
Increased efficiency in development 89% 11% 0%
Code Reusability 88% 12% 0%
Increased efficiency in design 85% 13% 2%
Maintaining brand standards 63% 35% 2%
Rapid prototyping 54% 46% 0%

Design systems are often used to manage multiple web properties.

73% of respondents’ organizations use their design system to manage more than one website or application.

Does your design system serve more than one web property?

86 responses
Select one
Options Responses
Yes 73.26%
No 25.58%
Unsure 1.16%

III What Makes Design Systems Successful Back to contents

More than 60% of respondents classified their design system as successful.

Of the 86 respondents with a design system at their organization, about 64% said their design system was either “successful” or “very successful”; 29% felt their design system was either “average” or “not very successful”; and 7% preferred not to say.

Successful design systems are robust.

Design systems that were categorized as “successful” or “very successful” tended to include more elements—e.g. color systems, HTML code, typography, and voice and tone guidelines—than those that were categorized as less successful. “Successful” or “very successful” design systems had between six and 19 elements, with a median of 14 elements, while “average” or “unsuccessful” design systems were reported to have between two and 18 elements, with a median of 11.

More than half our respondents said their design systems include:

  • Color and typography
  • Form components
  • Navigation
  • Grids, spacing, and layout systems
  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code
  • Guidelines for usage, accessibility, and brand
  • Design files
  • Content blocks and example page templates

Less than half our respondents said their design systems include:

  • Voice and tone guidelines
  • Animation systems

Successful design systems are maintained through teamwork.

Almost 80% of respondents who said their design system was successful also reported that their design system was maintained by a partially or fully dedicated team, rather than by a tool. Two respondents who selected “Other” clarified that they use a combination of partially and fully dedicated team members, while another said they use “All of the above.”

How are you maintaining your design system?

53 responses
Select one
Categories Percentage of Replies
Partially dedicated team/committee 47.17%
Dedicated team 32.08%
Maintained via a design system/pattern library tool 13.21%
Other 7.55%

Successful design systems bridge roles.

Successful design systems were most often used by designers, developers, and UX professionals, with these same roles also handling maintenance. This finding demonstrates that responsibility for successful design systems is often split among people who code, people who design, and people who communicate.

Who is primarily responsible for the design system?

55 responses
Select one
Categories Percentage of Replies
Designers 30.91%
User Experience 23.64%
Developers 18.18%
Other 16.36%
Marketing 5.45%
Unsure 3.64%
Product/Project Managers 1.82%
Quality Assurance 0%
No one 0%

Who are the main users of the design system?

55 responses
Select all that apply
Categories Percentage of Replies
Designers 96.36%
Developers 92.73%
User Experience 76.36%
Product/Project Managers 16.36%
Quality Assurance 14.55%
Marketing 9.09%
Other 3.64%

Successful design systems are valued by those who create and use them.

The practitioners who build, maintain, and use design systems are also the ones who value them the most, with survey respondents reporting that designers, developers, and UX professionals value design systems more than marketing departments, managers, and executive leadership.

Who values the design system most in your organization, if anyone?

55 responses
Rate 1 to 5
Categories Values More Values Less N/A
Designers 96% 4% 0%
User Experience 93% 5% 2%
Developers 91% 7% 2%
Product/Project Managers 39% 52% 9%
Quality Assurance 38% 37% 24%
Managers 38% 47% 15%
Executive Leadership 36% 53% 11%
Marketing 17% 63% 20%

IV Why Design Systems Need Champions Back to contents

Design systems benefit from executive advocates.

Of the 86 survey respondents from organizations with design systems, just over 25% reported that their systems were either “average” or “unsuccessful.” Reasons for this perceived lack of success included the absence of an executive champion, as well as adoption and staffing difficulties, which may be tied to not having a leadership-level advocate.

If you feel that your organization’s design system or library was not successful, what were the main reasons?

22 responses
Select one
Categories Percentage of Replies
Lack of executive champion 54.55%
Adoption difficulties 50%
Staffing difficulties 50%
Funding difficulties 31.82%
Maintenance difficulties 31.82%
Other 13.64%

Design systems benefit from cross-departmental buy-in.

88 of our survey respondents work at organizations that do not yet have design systems in place. When asked what is blocking them from taking on this work, responses included not having the right talent in place, as well as combating perceptions of low value and lacking executive buy-in. Having a champion could help these organizations address and overcome these challenges.

What, if anything, would keep your organization from creating a design system or a pattern library?

88 responses
Rate 1 to 5
Categories More Influence Less Influence N/A
Talent/Resources 56% 43% 1%
Perceived as low value 47% 50% 3%
Cost 46% 52% 2%
Executive buy-in 46% 52% 2%
Size of web property/properties 40% 56% 4%
Maintenance 39% 60% 1%
Would want a new website design first 32% 60% 8%
IT department buy-in 31% 61% 8%
Was unaware 25% 58% 17%
Marketing department buy-in 22% 70% 8%

V Next Steps Back to contents

A design system is an investment in your future, and one that takes conversation, collaboration, and expectation-setting to succeed.

Building a single source of truth for design, code, and content is not a one-time project. It represents a shift in the way your organization works.

Through conducting this survey and reflecting on Sparkbox’s experiences with design systems, we have found that the best way to ensure your design system succeeds is through continuous communication and collaboration. This means treating it as a living, breathing product that is created and maintained by a cross-disciplinary, partially or fully dedicated team, and has leadership-level champions who advocate for adoption, staffing, and value.

Interested in our full data set? Download the CSV file on Dropbox.

Stay informed.

This survey is just the beginning. Now that we’ve gathered information on how people in our industry are building and maintaining design systems, we’ll continue to reflect on these findings and share additional articles and insights in the coming year.

Sign up to stay informed on how you can keep your organization’s design system on track.

Get help.

Learning is at the core of what Sparkbox does. We offer training sessions and standalone workshops on a variety of subjects, including design systems. If you are interested in helping your team level up on building and maintaining design systems, please reach out for more information.