Rune Madsen jotted down his notes from a talk he gave at UX Camp Copenhagen back in May all about design systems and also, well, the potential problems that can arise when building a single unifying system:
When you start a redesign process for a company, it’s very easy to briefly look at all their products (apps, websites, newsletters, etc) and first of all make fun of how bad it all looks, and then design this one single design system for everything. However, once you start diving into why those decisions were made, they often reveal local knowledge that your design system doesn’t solve. I see this so often where a new design system completely ignores for example the difference between platforms because they standardized their components to make mobile and web look the same. Mobile design is just a different thing: Buttons need to be larger, elements should float to the bottom of the screen so they are easier to reach, etc.
This is born from one of Rune's primary critiques on design systems: that they often benefit the designer over the user. Even if a company's products aren't the prettiest of all things, they were created in a way that solved for a need at the time and perhaps we can learn from that rather than assume that standardization is the only way to solve user needs. There's a difference between standardization and consistency and erring too heavily on the side of standards could have a water-down effect on UX that tosses the baby out with the bath water.
A very good read (and presentation) indeed!