Your Figma library is not a design system. So what?

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick on my Twitter timeline of people stating, with frustration, that a Figma library is not a design system.

In my experience, the real meaning of this statement is usually one of these 2 things:

  • “Some of the people I’m working with don’t understand design systems in the way that I do”
  • “We’re spending too much time on our Figma library at the expense of things I think are more important”

So let’s look at those.

What if the people we’re working with don’t understand what a design system is?

I always urge people to be cautious in assuming that there’s one shared model of design systems, even amongst experts.

I’ve worked in this space for 6 years now. I consider myself an expert on design systems. And yet I often find myself and other experts disagreeing about their scope, purpose and how to implement them.

With that said, I do agree that a Figma library does not constitute a whole design system. But as design systems advocates, isn’t it part of our job to educate those around us?

Saying what design systems are not doesn’t tell people what they are. If people in our organisation are misaligned about the scope of a design system, we’re better off starting a constructive conversation to build shared understanding, instead of lashing out.

These conversations must start from a place of respect, humility, and recognition that there is no single definition of design systems.

What if we’re spending too much time on our Figma library instead of more important things?

We might have a perception that our organisation is over-focusing on a Figma library at the expense of other, seemingly more important parts of the system.

And we might be right about that. I’ve certainly seen it happen.

But no one is over-focusing on Figma just to piss us off.

We feel that someone is spending more time on something than it deserves when there’s misalignment between our priorities and theirs. And simply saying “that bit you’re working on isn’t a design system” won’t help us bridge the gap.

That’s why it’s so important that design systems work is underpinned by regular communication about goals and priorities.

A Figma library is not a design system. But…

A Figma library is not a whole design system, but this is rarely the real point worth making.

Not everyone shares the same understanding of design systems, and that’s OK. By surfacing discrepancies in our definitions, we can work towards a shared vision.

Likewise, not everyone shares our priorities when it comes to design systems work, but putting that on the table means we can negotiate that and come up with a plan.

So let’s stop pointing out that a Figma library is not a design system.

Let’s have a more useful conversation.