Design Systems are the New Responsive Web Design.

Last week I had a conversation with a leader who is going back to consulting with a focus on design systems. They are eager to enter the space but expressed doubt that it was possibly too late, that the marketplace is already too well established.


This summer, I worked on creating a product and marketing strategy and roadmap for Emulsify, a design system creator and management tool. With my colleagues Colin and Brett, we worked with Randy, Brian, Mike, and Todd from Four Kitchens, who created the open-source tool. I should do a playback of the work, but in short, we dove deep into the world of design systems to develop an “As-Is” scenario for what’s happening in design systems. And while there has been a lot of activity in the last two-to-three years, we are very much in—as the brilliant Val Head said to me—“very early days” of design systems.

I believe there is a direct parallel between the design systems world to the evolution of web design, beginning in 1995 with very few tools and no standards save for HTML to 2010 with Responsive Web Design enabled by mature versions of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In those fifteen years, think about how many standards were introduced and evolved, the crazy amount of tools that came and went (Pagemill, GoLive, NetObjects Fusion to name a few), and how our processes, practices, roles, and responsibilities changed drastically. And that’s from 1995-2010. Now think about how much those things have changed from 2010-2022!

And let’s not forget that design system success relies solely on the parent organization’s state of transformation and operational maturity. Uf-da, there is a long, long way to go there.

My friends, we are far, far, far from a saturation point in the design systems marketplace. It’s the opposite, and I believe we are still very much at the beginning of the Wild West days of design systems tools, capabilities, jobs, outcomes—everything. Tuck in because we’re on a path that I believe will evolve beyond digital.

If you see a design system need or opportunity, fill it.