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Skill Level Intermediate
- Product teams from around the world are investing more and more into digital design systems. It's no longer a question of why investing in a design system is important, it's now a necessity. Teams are bigger, products are more complex, and it's too expensive for organizations not to invest in them. But what about the hundreds of ingredients that make up the system? These ingredients make up things you see and interact with on a website. They also include the foundations that you use for every project and the principles that guide your team.
How might you consolidate and organize these ingredients so your efforts will not be duplicated? And so your team can become laser focused on prioritizing the work that is going to have the most impact on the team and the business? This is accomplished by a design audit. In this video, we'll focus on the work that needs to be done to successfully audit your system, a guided path to executing one and how you can make this not only about the design team, but an effort your engineers, and product managers, and designers can get excited about.
I'll also share some tools that you can use to help in this multi-office environment that we are now accustomed to working in. Oftentimes, teams completely skip this process and it's likely that a team has never completed a design audit. So why do teams skip this process? They're busy, distracted, and expected to deliver on the jobs that were given to them. This is completely understandable. We've all been there, you're doing your job. However, there's a tipping point when you start to realize that the business is scaling, the team is growing, and the amount of work is getting more complex.
You continue executing on your day-to-day task, and then you wake up and realize you have a scaling problem. You have design and engineering debt, which is essentially work that you need to redo, and you have to redo it in order to eliminate dependencies. It's a vicious cycle and now you want to create a system to solve that problem. Many teams fall into what I call the execution trap. The execution trap is not difficult to recognize, but it's so easy to fall into.
It's important to understand that the audit helps you understand your ecosystem as a whole. It's a self-reflection process of your entire product. A design audit's needed to see the current state and it also helps you plan for the future one. Let's begin the steps to conducting a successful design audit. Since the auditing process can be overwhelming and daunting for a project, I've created three freehand worksheets that will help you along this journey. I've also provided examples for each of the tasks you'll need to complete.
In each case, follow the URL provided, make a copy of the document, and then follow the task. The first one is the design system audit guide. Step number one, define why you need to do a design audit. Is it because you have design debt? Is it because you have engineering debt? Are you tasked with a product redesign? Are you tasked with a user migration from one platform to another? Use this worksheet I've provided to fill in your five reasons of why you need a design audit.
Step number two, define what you're going to get from your audit. Document what you want out of the audit. Yes, everybody knows what an audit is. But do you know what the output and learnings will be? Having clearly defined learning outcomes will help you, your leaders, and your business get the most out of this work. Step number three, create a one-sheet. Design a one-sheet to present the challenges that need to be solved, why it's important, and what you'll do with the audit.
A one-sheet is a single page document that sets the goals, context, and desired outcomes in one location. The good news is, you've already been collecting these questions and answers so you can leverage the work you've done thus far to put into your one-sheet. The work is essential because you'll end up getting asked over and over, what are you doing? Why is it important? And why should we dedicate time to help? Step number four, establish a cross-functional group that can dedicate and commit to a full week and name the team the Audit Avengers.
If you don't treat your audit like a project, then how do you expect to get it done? If it's not a priority, then it's just dust in the wind. It might get done, but over a long and grueling period of time. Recruit designers, product marketers, engineers, and product managers for this group. Cross-functional partners are the best for audits because they see things from a different perspective and call out things that your team might not be able to see. This also makes the process a priority for the team and not just for the designers.
Design systems don't just affect the designers, they affect everyone who works on the product. Step number five, plan the session. Pick a week where everybody can attend. Make this week fun and publicly known to your company and team. When it's public, it allows your stakeholders to know how important it is to the business. It also lets people ask the questions about what a design audit is, why it's important, and how it will be accomplished.
Since you've already answered those questions in tasks one and two, you can send them the one-sheet or post it for all to see. Step number six, schedule a preparation workshop. This is a two-hour session with your design stakeholders. The goal of this meeting is to decide on some expectations. This is where the preparation design audit worksheet comes in. This is another envision freehand document that allows your team to sign up for responsibilities and also helps you organize your decisions and delegate each job to be done.
In this step, you'll collaborate on how you're going to do the work. I suggest sending them a worksheet you plan to walk them through, at least a week beforehand, so they can prep and understand what will be expected of them ahead of time. This will keep the session focused and structured from the minute you start. There's no special secrets to the process, it's just a guided structure of organized objectives that are going to help you stay focused. Step number seven, execute the design audit. I provided a digital worksheet that you can follow to help the process run smoothly.
One thing to keep in mind is each member of the team will need to bring their computer, their charger, and a water bottle. Here's a pro tip. If you're the one scheduling the meeting, be sure to schedule in the morning. This is indeed the most productive time of the day. You could also provide breakfast, or meet the team at a restaurant before making it into the office. At this breakfast, you can start to get the team pumped up about why the task is so important and the impact that it's going to have on the organization.
Consider ways to make this week fun and inspiring. After you've completed your design audit, it's time to make clear actionable next steps. This is important so the work that you just completed doesn't fall into a black hole. These next steps consist of you presenting your findings, creating a plan, and then following through with the plan. It's far more likely that you'll be able to accomplish your plan if you're organized and if you've put in the work to make sure your team and business stakeholders understand the health of the system.
I provided a design audit presentation outline to help you with what needs to go inside of your presentation. Now it's time. Follow the steps in the worksheet and be one step closer to building and designing consistent experience with reduced design and engineering debt, along with understanding at a deeper level your visual and interaction design language. If you're currently working on a design audit and have any questions about the process, then I'd love to continue the conversation with you. Find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter at abridewell.
Or you can post a question on our Practical UX Weekly LinkedIn group. Thanks for watching and I look forward to seeing you next time.