What I like about design systems is they encourage systems thinking …in theory. I mean, it’s right there in the name, right? But in practice I see design sytems focusing on the opposite of systems thinking: analytical thinking.
Okay, I realise that’s a gross oversimplification of both systems and thinking and analytical thinking, but why stop now?
Analytical thinking is all about breaking a big thing down into its constituent parts. By examining the individual parts you gain an understanding of the whole.
This is a great approach to understanding the world, particularly when it comes to phenonema that work the same everywhere in the universe. But it doesn’t work so well with messy phenonema like, say, people doing things together.
Systems thinking takes the opposite approach. You look at the bigger picture with the understanding that the individual parts are all interconnected somehow and can’t really be viewed in isolation.
To put it very bluntly, analytical thinking is about zooming in whereas systems thinking is about zooming out.
When it comes to design systems—or design in general—you need to have a mix of both.
If you neglect the analytical thinking, you may end up with a design system that has well-documented processes for how it operates, but is lacking the individual components.
If you neglect the systems thinking, you may end up with a design system that’s a collection of components, but with no understanding of how they’re supposed to work together.
Ideally, you want a good mix of both.
But I’ve got to be honest: if I had to err on one side more than the other, I think I’d rather have less analytical thinking and more systems thinking.