Drop caps & design systems

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Ethan Marcotte has written up his process for how to make drop caps accessible for screen readers and browsers alike. All of that is very interesting and I’m sure I’ll use a technique like this in the near future, but the part that made me hop out of my seat is where Ethan notes his experience with design systems at Vox:

Since rolling out our new and improved drop caps, we’ve continued to iterate on them. (Including fixing a number of bugs that I, a professional web designer, introduced.) We’ve also discussed potential changes to the custom styles feature, in order to make it sustainable. But for my money, the real benefit of the work wasn’t the drop caps themselves, but the process that emerged from it.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. The tricky thing to understanding design systems is that the process of creating and maintaining them is just as important than the code it uses. Sure, yes, fixing small things is very important, but the long-lasting improvements to a design system will always be around process. Why is this thing breaking? How long has it been broken for? How do we setup a way to make sure that this problem never pops up again?

Questions about process will always be the most useful questions to ask. The system will reward you for asking.

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