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2022 Sparkbox Design Systems Survey

Every year, we are surprised by what we learn from the perspectives of people who work with design systems day in and day out. This year, we took particular interest in learning from both the people building and maintaining a design system and those who use or contribute to it in addition to their other responsibilities.

We shared this survey for four weeks across our social media network, in Slack channels, with visitors to the Sparkbox website, and in emails to web professionals. Over 200 web professionals responded with their experiences. Read on for this year's findings.

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Of the 219 responses, 183 spent most of their time as a creator or maintainer of a design system while 37 spent most of their time as a user or subscriber. We will refer to these respondents as maintainers and subscribers from here out.

Our survey respondents represented more than 20 industry categories including financial services, telecommunications, IT hardware and software, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, government, manufacturing, education, and retail.

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What’s in a Design System

When asked about what their design systems contain, most respondents reported that their design systems included the usual suspects—fonts and colors, components and documentation, grids and layouts, etc.

Responses: 219 | Respondents were asked to select all that applied.

What’s more interesting is what they didn’t have in their design systems.

Fewer than 50% of respondents reported having content guidelines, experience design principles, or release information.

And fewer than 35% have playgrounds to experiment with code or animation guidance.

Responses: 219 | Respondents were asked to select all that applied.

We were also curious about what established processes and practices were in place for our respondents’ design systems. We found that 61% of respondents had processes for subscribers to contribute to the design system. Just 44% had governance models or shared the product roadmap for the design system. And only 16% tracked metrics—which is consistent with last year’s survey results.

Which of the following are established for the design system you use?
Process for contributing61%
Process for determining which features or functionality will be added, updated, or removed44%
Roadmap of upcoming features44%
Support and training for current subscribers/contributors37%
New subscriber/contributor onboarding30%
Metrics tracking/reporting (usage, satisfaction, etc.)16%
I don't know/prefer not to say11%

Responses: 134 | Respondents were asked to select all that applied.

[Our design system] has completely revolutionized how we collaborate with other teams and document and present our brand. Now, we can't imagine operating any other way.

Design System Maintainer

Respondents who felt their design system was successful had established processes and practices in place.

Responses: 189

Key Finding

Only 30% of all respondents reported their design system having support, training, and new user onboarding. Yet those who reported having successful design systems had these practices in place 76% of the time.

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Subscribers’ Needs

We asked subscribers about their experiences using design systems. We especially wanted to know if their needs were met and what challenges they faced.

The design system meets my needs.

Of design system subscriber respondents, 65% said their design system met their needs.

Responses: 34

Agree or Strongly Agree65%
Neither Agree nor Disagree23%
Disagree or Strongly Disagree12%
Agree or Strongly Agree65%
Neither Agree nor Disagree23%
Disagree or Strongly Disagree12%

The subscribers who felt their needs were met also reported their design systems have established processes and practices in place.

In addition, 67% of these satisfied subscribers reported that their design system was the source of truth for how things should be done and 85% felt supported by the design system maintainers.

Responses: 29

Key Finding

84% of all subscriber respondents said they are required to use the design system for their work.

What challenges do you face when you use the design system?

The top challenges subscribers reported were poor documentation and not being able to tell what Is old, broken, or coming soon.

Respondents also reported other challenges like poor organization and the system not having what they need. There's an opportunity to invest in a better user experience for design system subscribers.

Responses: 31 | Respondents were asked to select all that applied.

There are a lot of repeating design patterns that are not documented, as well as plenty of one-off patterns that are not documented either. It is hard to decide whether to use an existing pattern or not because the system lacks a documented thought process behind higher-level patterns and templates.

Design System Subscriber

Share your experience

Chat with Ben Callahan, the president of Sparkbox, about your design system experiences and contribute to our growing body of research.

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Maintainers’ Challenges

We heard from 183 respondents who said they maintained design systems. We wanted to learn what their top challenges and priorities were this year.

What are the top priorities and top challenges for the design system at this moment?

What are the top priorities and top challenges for the design system at this moment?
ResponsesTop PrioritiesTop Challenges
Expanding the design system41%34%
Parity between design & code33%37%
Overcoming technical/creative debt31%43%
Internal education21%32%
Leadership buy-in12%16%
Transparency about changes8%10%

With the exception of staffing, the top five challenges were the same as their top five priorities. But how can teams overcome these challenges without adequate staffing? When we looked at maintainers who said their design systems were successful, they were more likely to have staffing as one of their top priorities.

Respondents were asked to select their top two priorities and challenges but were not restricted to two.

Top Priorities

Responses: 164
6 selected “I’m not sure”
6 selected “Other”

Top Challenges

Responses: 162
5 selected “I’m not sure”
4 selected “Other”

We are growing and just built our design system two years ago. But since there is not a dedicated person/team to manage and maintain, I see a lot of inconsistencies in the files and documentation.

Design System Maintainer

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Accepting Contributions

The most frequent approach to contribution reported by our maintainer respondents (at 57%) is to have subscribers submit feature requests and bug reports. But 36% of respondents said their design system lacks a defined process for accepting contributions and 4% said they don’t accept contributions at all.

How do you accept contributions to the design system?
Subscribers submit feature requests and/or bug reports57%
Subscribers submit designs37%
Subscribers submit coded features, updates, and/or bug fixes33%
We don't have a defined process for accepting contributions36%
We don't accept subscriber contributions4%

Responses: 162 | Respondents were asked to select all that applied.

Good contributions are so important. They are the crucial feedback required to tell you what's working and what's not.

Design System Maintainer

Maintainers who viewed their design system as successful were very likely to have a contribution process for their design system.

Responses: 160

Key Finding

Only 33% of maintainers are satisfied with their design system's current stance on accepting contributions.

When starting the system, we focused on contributions as actively helping to build patterns for teams to leverage. It helped designers onboard into the system and tools while creating evangelists for the system.

Design System Maintainer

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Looking Ahead

This year’s survey revealed that successful design systems have established onboarding, training, and support practices for their subscribers and contributors. And the subscribers’ needs are met when they are well-supported and the design system itself is a credible source of truth.

But design systems are faced with challenges like technical debt, adoption struggles, and discrepancies between design and code. These are the same cracks that subscribers see as they report being challenged by bad documentation and poor usability. It’s time for design systems to put the subscriber experience first and formalize processes so that they can be successful products for their organizations.

We believe in our design system. It is not perfect and not perfectly used, but we all want to make it better and can all contribute.

Design System Maintainer

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