The future is built on solid foundations

If you feel like you’re struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change, you’re certainly not alone. We feel this pressure at an individual level, but also at an organizational level. How do digital organizations establish solid, stable foundations while also responsibly exploring the future?

Organizations with solid foundations in place are better equipped to adopt emerging technology. This isn’t particularly revelatory; a person standing on a stable, tall structure peering out over the horizon can better anticipate what’s coming than a person flailing around on the ground trying to extinguish a grease fire. But the fact remains: the sturdier an organization’s critical front-end infrastructure is, the better positioned they are to explore the future.

At Big Medium, we’ve spent the last 11 years working with organizations helping them establish sound foundations and also helping them adopt emerging technology. There’s a “stability vs innovation” dynamic that can sometimes feel like competing tension, but what we’ve found is that is that stability and innovation are more complementary than competitive.

Design system success is more than assets

High-performing teams have design systems, but having a design system won’t make you a high-performing team.

Josh Clark

Merely having design system assets in place doesn’t mean it will succeed. It’s the successful orchestration of people, processes, technologies, and assets that really makes this stuff hum.

While the assets are important, they’re merely one part of a broader picture. It’s the human systems and the processes by which humans wield technology that overwhelming make or break a design system effort. What we’ve learned is that those same human systems and processes are what truly matter when it comes to innovating and adopting new technologies.

Rounding the corner from building to wielding

It feels like there’s an urgency to get solid foundations in place — and fast! — because there are bigger fish to fry. AI exploded onto the scene and sucked the air out of the room. While we’re still no doubt in the AI hype cycle, its emergence has lit a fire for teams to get their badges and text fields in order so that everyone can move onto other important initiatives.

Thankfully, AI can help streamline many aspects of design system asset work, freeing up teams’ time and energy to do the important human work that is critical to a design system’s success. Just so it’s said: creating a design system’s assets has never been the end game, but rather an important foundational layer for other important work to stand on. What you do with the design system is where the excitement and focus should be. Whether it’s the ability to blast out higher-quality work faster than ever, explore new technologies, or spend more time building relationships, the opportunities are many. We want those opportunities for everyone!

Stability and innovation go hand in hand

This week our team ran an AI and Design Systems virtual session where we showed off how we’ve been integrating AI into many aspects of our design system work. When Kevin and Ian showed off how LLMs can help generate and translate component code, people reacted with “Wow! How are you getting such consistent results?” The answer is: with solid design system architecture and conventions in place. We’ve been sweating the details and iterating over our design system architecture for over a decade, and we have our conventions consistently implemented and well documented.

We’ve all heard garbage-in, garbage-out when it comes to AI, and the inverse is also true. It turns out that high-quality input yields high-quality output, so the sturdier the design system foundations are the better AI-powered results are going to be. To me it feels like a continuation of the future friendly thinking; there are things we can do today that better prepare us for an unknown future.

Learn more in Paris!

If any of this resonates with you, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be talking about this and more at a Wine and Cheese event (!!!) in Paris the evening of June 26th. And the very next day on June 27th, I’ll be delivering a full-day design systems masterclass where I’ll dive into all of the foundational concepts and best practices around creating and maintaining a successful design system.

If you’re in or around Paris, I hope to see you at one (or both!) of these events. We’re at an exciting — and disruptive! — time in this field, and I’m tremendously excited for the discussions ahead.

The Role of Design Systems

A design system is a comprehensive set of guidelines, principles, and components that ensure consistency and efficiency across a company’s digital products. It includes everything from UI components and design patterns to coding standards and brand guidelines. By providing a unified language and framework, design systems streamline the design and development process, making it easier to create cohesive and scalable products.

The benefits of a robust design system are manifold. Firstly, it ensures a consistent user experience across different platforms and products, reinforcing the brand identity. Secondly, it enhances collaboration between designers and developers by providing a shared vocabulary and set of tools. Lastly, it boosts efficiency by reducing redundancy and enabling the reuse of components, saving time and resources.

Why Design Systems are Crucial for AI Integration

Integrating AI into an organization’s digital ecosystem can be a complex and challenging endeavor. However, a strong design system provides a stable foundation that simplifies this process. Here’s how:

Consistency: A design system ensures that AI elements are seamlessly integrated into the existing UI, maintaining a consistent look and feel. This is crucial for user adoption and trust.

Scalability: With a solid design system in place, scaling AI features across different products and platforms becomes more manageable. The reusable components and guidelines allow for quick adaptation and deployment.

Efficiency: AI can enhance the efficiency of a design system by automating repetitive tasks. For instance, AI-driven design tools can suggest design variations, conduct usability tests, and even generate code snippets, freeing up designers and developers to focus on more strategic tasks.

Case Studies

Several forward-thinking organizations have successfully integrated AI into their design systems, reaping significant benefits. For example, a leading e-commerce company leveraged AI to personalize user experiences based on browsing behavior and purchase history. Their robust design system facilitated the seamless integration of AI-driven recommendations, resulting in increased user engagement and sales.

Another example is a major financial institution that incorporated AI to enhance its customer service chatbot. The design system’s predefined components and guidelines ensured that the AI chatbot was visually and functionally consistent with the company’s digital products, providing a smooth user experience.

Preparing for the Future

To prepare for the integration of AI and other emerging technologies, organizations should focus on strengthening their design systems. Here are some practical steps:

Invest in a Comprehensive Design System: Develop a design system that includes detailed guidelines, reusable components, and a clear governance model.

Foster Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between designers, developers, and AI specialists to ensure that the design system evolves in tandem with technological advancements.

Stay Adaptable: Continuously update the design system to incorporate new best practices, tools, and technologies. An adaptable design system is key to staying ahead of the curve.


In conclusion, organizations with solid design system foundations are best positioned to leverage AI and other emerging technologies. A robust design system ensures consistency, scalability, and efficiency, making the integration process smoother and more effective. As technology continues to evolve, investing in and maintaining a strong design system will be crucial for organizations aiming to stay competitive and future-ready.