Advice to New Design System Managers from 5 Experts


We sat down with five experts to gather insights and advice new Design Systems Managers should consider when taking on a design system position.

Introducing our five collaborators for this article:

  1. Nina Jurcic is a Product Design Manager and Advisor with expertise in managing efficient Design Systems and design teams.
  2. Nicolas Chatelain is a Design System Designer in the DesignOps team at Orange. Nicolas is involved in growing DesignOps communities (DesignOps Assembly) and mentoring at ADPlist.
  3. Anie Silva Chiba is a UX Design Manager with a strong experience in wireframing, prototyping, and design management.
  4. Justyna Piwowarska is a Design Lead at Klarna and currently leads its Design System Team.
  5. Rikard Nilsson led Klarna’s Design System Team before Justyna for two years and is now a Senior Product Manager at Checkly.

This article was a collaborative effort with the experts and UXPin’s team. UXPin Merge is a code-based design technology bridging the gap between design and development by syncing your design system’s repository to UXPin’s design editor–creating a single source of truth across design, product, and development. Visit our Merge page for more details.

Reach a new level of prototyping

Design with interactive components coming from your team’s design system.

Understand the Role and Responsibilities

Nina Jurcic pointed out that “a design system manager acts as a bridge between design, engineering, and product teams. They must manage relationships and safeguard priorities for cross-functional collaboration to thrive.

Interdisciplinary background 

Nina Jurcic also directed our attention to the fact that “ideally, [a Design System Manager] should come from a technical, interaction design, or interdisciplinary product background.” She also revealed that “if you are strong in one of these areas, you need a sparring partner who is strong in the other — in my case, that was a front-end lead.”

This interdisciplinary skillset provides a comprehensive understanding of the needs and challenges of UX designers, developers, and product teams.

“When you are a Design System Manager, you are simultaneously a UX Researcher, an excellent communicator, a trainer, an entertainer, a sensitizer, a UI Designer…”Nicolas Chatelain.

Effective communication

Design System Managers must be able to communicate on multiple organizational levels, from executives to end-users. They must understand the needs of stakeholders, designers, product teams, and developers to facilitate communication and collaboration effectively.

“Speaking the same language and aligning vocabulary is important to streamline communication and understanding. Avoid trending terms and use those familiar to the team.”Anie Silva Chiba.

Informed decision-making

A well-rounded understanding of a product’s design and technical aspects is crucial for making informed decisions when prioritizing features, setting goals, and making trade-offs during the design system development process.


Design System Managers must solve problems across several disciplines and multiple levels. An interdisciplinary knowledge base helps identify and solve issues related to design and development, ensuring that the design system addresses the challenges faced by the teams using it.


Design System Managers will need the knowledge and experience to adapt to an ever-changing landscape of digital products and technologies. They must be able to react to these changes and implement updates to keep the design system relevant.

Operational and strategic skills

New design system manager’s role demands operational skills and having a broad view of what’s going on.

 “Much of your day-to-day work will be similar to that of a Product Owner or Product Manager — managing the day-to-day operational aspects such as gathering requirements, writing tickets, and prioritising” – revealed Nina Jurcic, Product Design Manager and Advisor – “And while you’ve got one foot in the present, you should ideally be two steps ahead of the other product teams, anticipating their future needs and requirements and incorporating them into your roadmap and strategy.

Shift Mindset to Internal Products

Design systems are different from consumer-facing products. Managers must understand that they will focus on enabling product teams to iterate faster and build more confidently.

“An internal product does not have the hard metric of revenue directly tied to it – you are the enabler that allows product teams to iterate faster and build with more confidence, but it will be difficult to show in revenue terms how much you and your team are contributing.”Justyna Piwowarska and Rikard Nilsson.

Here are some key points from our experts on an internal product mindset shift.

Value measurement

Unlike consumer-facing products, which use revenue metrics, measuring ROI for internal products like design systems is difficult. Design system managers must focus on the indirect value their work delivers, notably:

User proximity

Working on internal products means design system managers have direct user access–their colleagues. This proximity gives DS managers a significant benefit over consumer-facing products giving them more effective communication and feedback loops. They can use this proximity better to understand user needs, pain points, and expectations.

“What you will have, though, is direct access to all of your users, which is a superpower if managed well. Talk to your users weekly or daily if you can.”Justyna Piwowarska and Rikard Nilsson.

Governance and diplomacy

As design system managers interact with various stakeholders, they must navigate the complexities of internal politics diplomatically. DS managers must be confident to say “no” to requests that do not align with the design system’s strategy or objectives while maintaining positive relationships with their colleagues.

Iterative and incremental growth

Internal products, like design systems, benefit from an iterative and incremental approach to development. Starting small and focusing on the most critical components allows for manageable growth and easier maintenance. This gradual expansion also enables the design system to evolve alongside the organization’s needs and priorities.

Focus on maintainability

Design systems require ongoing maintenance to remain effective; conversely, consumer-facing products will have more distinct release cycles. DS managers must prioritize maintainability when creating components and guidelines. This prioritization ensures efficient updates and improvements without disrupting product teams and schedules.

Start Small and Expand Slowly

Starting small and expanding slowly is crucial for building a functional foundation before adding complexity to your design system. This incremental approach ensures the core elements of the design system are well-established and scalable, making it easier to build upon them as the system grows.

“By starting small, you have a better chance of getting it right, and then you can add complexity as you go.”Nicolas Chatelain, Design System Designer at Orange.

Begin with a limited set of components

Focus on the most commonly used components and patterns, ensuring these are well-designed, documented, and functional. This solid base allows product teams to use the design system as soon as possible while providing a solid foundation to scale.

“A Design System is not only made of visuals and code. Remember that products have communication in their essence, the standards that guarantee the coherence of speech with the brand (Tone and Voice). The writing team must participate in this process from the beginning, setting the standards for text structure, hierarchy, capitalization, verb tenses, and other items intrinsic to the field.”Anie Silva Chiba, UX Design & DesignOps Manager.

Incremental improvements

Apply Gall’s Law: complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked. Gradually refine and expand your design system, making improvements and adding complexity only when necessary.

Monitor usage and feedback

Monitor your design system closely and how product teams use it. Ask for regular feedback on which components are most valuable, and you must prioritize for expansion.

“Remember, the Design System is not a product under the exclusive responsibility or management of the design team.”Anie Silva Chiba, UX Design & DesignOps Manager.

Be mindful of organizational needs

As the design system grows, ensure that it aligns with the overall goals and requirements of the organization. This alignment involves adapting the system to accommodate new products, features, or design trends.

Avoid over-engineering

When expanding the design system, focus on practical solutions rather than creating overly complex components or patterns. This focus on practicality will make it easier for product teams to adopt and utilize the design system effectively.

Get Buy-In and Sponsorship

Getting buy-in and sponsorship is essential to ensure the success of new design systems. Acquiring this support involves convincing stakeholders and higher-ups within the organization about the design system’s value and ROI.

“To get started, you need a champion – someone in the organization who understands the importance of a design system and is willing to provide sponsorship and support. Your first task is to secure this sponsorship and build a case.”Nina Jurcic, Product Design Manager & Advisor.

“Once you have the green light and key stakeholder support, you can assemble a balanced team with diverse skills and industry insights to start working on the design system,” Nina added.

Involve Stakeholders and Users

Involving stakeholders and users is crucial for the success of a design system. When design system managers actively engage with their stakeholders and users, they can better understand their needs, expectations, and potential challenges. This involvement ensures the design system remains relevant, valuable, and user-centered.

“Not everyone will immediately see its value and potential, and that’s okay. Take the time to get to know your stakeholders and bring them on board – establish a regular operating rhythm to keep them informed or involved as needed. In the early stages, spend more time listening than talking.”Nina Jurcic, Product Design Manager & Design System Expert.

Here are some ways to involve stakeholders and users:

  • Regular communication: set up communication channels (Slack, email, etc.) for stakeholders and users, and create regular meetings, status updates, or progress reports to keep everyone informed.
  • Workshops and training: Organize workshops, training sessions, or demos for users and stakeholders to familiarize them with the design system, gather feedback, and encourage adoption.
  • Collaborative decision-making: Involve stakeholders and users in important decisions related to the design system, such as prioritization of components, design decisions, and setting milestones.
  • Encourage contributions: Allow users to contribute to the design system by adding new components, improving existing ones, or updating documentation. This involvement turns users into creators, fosters a sense of ownership, and ensures that the design system remains relevant and valuable to all teams.

Resources for New Design System Managers

Accelerate design system maturity and create a single source of truth from day one with UXPin Merge. Visit our Merge page for more details and how to request access.

Use a single source of truth for design and development. Discover Merge

by UXPin on 26th April, 2023

UXPin is a web-based design collaboration tool. We’re pleased to share our knowledge here.

Still hungry for the design?

UXPin is a product design platform used by the best designers on the planet. Let your team easily design, collaborate, and present from low-fidelity wireframes to fully-interactive prototypes.

Start your free trial

These e-Books might interest you