Your design system is not a one-off thing

Creating a design system for a product or brand is a big upfront investment. But the job isn’t done once that initial framework is in place. Ongoing maintenance and evolution are key to ensuring the system remains useful and valuable over the long run.

Neglecting maintenance inevitably leads to inconsistency as more components are added outside the core guidelines. Without governance, new features may start ignoring or outright breaking the fundamental styling, patterns, and standards established in the design system. This undermines the very purpose of having a coherent system in the first place.

Some specific issues that can arise include incompatible color palettes being introduced, new typographic styles disrupting the visual hierarchy, or improper padding/margins breaking the grid. Imagery may start varying wildly in proportion, styling, or orientation. Icons become difficult to recognize as a family if they mutate freely.

Any bugs or known errors in existing components will linger if not patched. Edge cases that were never accounted for originally may lead to surprising or confusing user behaviors as the product expands. Documentation gets left behind, so new team members never fully understand constraints and intentions.

There are also missed opportunities when a system isn’t kept modern. User needs and industry standards continue evolving. By failing to refresh periodically, the design framework risks becoming stale or obsolete. Competitors may surpass what’s offered as innovation slows.

Some maintenance best practices include developing a formal review and approval process for changes. Clearly define who has permission to modify or update the source files. Set a regular ongoing audit schedule to check for inconsistencies. Solicit feedback and suggestions through surveys. Automatically deprecate unused components to minimize bloat.

A design system is considered a living document, not a finished deliverable. The upfront structural work enables more agile and collaborative development in the long term, but only if it continues receiving care, nourishment, and refinement as the product matures. Proper maintenance is as important as the initial development in maximizing a system’s long-term value.

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