Big Medium’s Josh Clark joined The Design Systems Podcast for a conversation with Knapsack CEO Chris Strahl. Josh shared why big, complex organizations struggle to scale digital design and delivery—and why solving that is more important than ever in a period of economic uncertainty. Listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

“Let’s figure out how to do more with less. Let’s figure out how to fix our process so that we’re getting to market faster, doing more with less, improving stuff for our customers,” Josh said. “That investment comes back to you really quickly again, especially if you can capitalize it.”

Although design systems have become a piece of critical infrastructure for scaling design and development of digital interfaces, Josh talked about why they’re also not enough. “High-performing teams have design systems, but having a design system doesn’t make you a high-performing team,” Josh said. “It takes time and care and leadership to make the thing actually work at its best. You’re always going to get some benefit from it at some level, but you’re not going to get the exponential benefits that you can get from design systems without having the right process in place.”

When that collaborative process is missing, it usually can’t be built from the ground up. It takes a commitment from leadership, Josh said:

What it suggests is that this is no longer a team issue, but a leadership issue. We need companies to say, “You know what, we are serious about our digital process. We have made this investment. It has gotten messy because we’ve moved quickly and we haven’t had the discipline or experience to do it right. We now need to have a concerted effort to make this happen in the right way.”

Doing that in the context of lean budgets means that this sort of persuasion and explanation to get the attention of leadership around this stuff is more important than ever. And I think that often the designers and developers who are leading design systems aren’t necessarily well equipped in the language of finance and in the language of value to actually make that case.

Josh shared ways that designers and developers should make the financial case for efficiency-building efforts—including how to categorize those efforts as capital expenditures, which in turn helps the company’s balance sheet (and makes the CFO happy).

“What leadership cares about is really only three things: how are we making money; how are we saving money; and how are we attracting new customers?” Josh said. “I think design systems have a great story to tell there: that actually investing in design systems as a capital project also means that you’re going to do better on all those things.”

Along the way, Josh and Chris also talk about:

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

Is your design, development, or product organization struggling with process, delivery, or roles & responsibilities? We can help. Big Medium helps complex organizations do big design—building and shipping great digital products at scale. Get in touch to find out how.

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