Hey! I've got great news! I'm done with the manuscript of Atomic Design!

The fifth and final chapter of the book is all about maintaining design systems, and I've been chipping away at it for a long time. 9,523 words later, I'm finally finished with it.

Originally, I wasn't even going to have a chapter on maintenance. I was going to talk about maintenance in a section at the end of Chapter 4, which is all about creating a pattern-driven workflow. I soon realized that it probably need a bit more room to properly address the subject, so figured I'd add a short-and-sweet Chapter 5 to the mix. Boy did that change.

Why did the chapter balloon into over 9,000 words? I think it happened for a few reasons:

  • At this stage in the game, I think everyone is on board with modularity as a principle and creating style guides as a general best practice. But baking this mentality and process into your organization is a much tougher nut to crack. And sustaining a design system over a long period of time requires a fundamental shift in how your organization works. I wanted to address those thorny issues in the book.  
  • I recently attended (and spoke at) Clarity Conference, the first ever conference dedicated to design systems. Maintenance was a huge theme of the conference, and to be honest not many organizations have cracked the code on how to properly maintain their design system. That's why the conference was so crucial; we were able to hear real war stories about success and failure.
  • There's been an uptick of excellent case studies, articles, talks, and tool improvements in recent months. It's clear that the community is starting to tackle what goes into maintaining an effective design system and style guide, so I wanted to make sure that latest, greatest thinking was reflected in the book.
I realize adding this chapter pushed out the project timeline further. I just want to say thank you for your patience. With most book projects, once the thing is announced it's in your hands within a month or so. Because I've been doing this in the open, it's been tough to manage people's expectations. I know for sure the book is better because of this last chapter, but yeah again, thanks a ton for sticking with me.

Making Maintainable Design Systems
So what's covered in Chapter 5? How can you make your design system stand the test of time? Here's what the chapter suggests:

  • Make it official by allocating real time, money, and resources to your design system.
  • Make it adaptable by counting on change and establishing a clear governance plan.
  • Make it maintainable by seeking the Holy Grail and making it easy to deploy and communicate changes to the design system.
  • Make it cross-disciplinary by making your pattern library become a watering hole the entire organization can gather around.
  • Make it approachable by making an attractive, easy-to-use style guide with helpful accompanying documentation.
  • Make it visible by communicating change, evangelizing the design system, and making it public.
  • Make it bigger by including brand, voice and tone, code, design principles, and writing guidelines.
  • Make it agnostic by naming patterns according to their structure rather than their context or content.
  • Make it contextual by demonstrating what patterns make up a particular pattern and showing where each pattern is utilized.
  • Make it last by creating a clear governance plan and communicating changes to the design system across the entire organization.

Next Steps
I'm working with the brilliant Owen Gregory to go through the text and tighten up the language and grammar. You can follow along with our edits and read all the critical things Owen has to say about my writing! I'm so glad he's agreed to work in the open like this, and hopefully it will shine some light on what goes into editing a book. I know I'm learning a ton already.

Being that you're reading an email newsletter on the topic of design systems right now, you may be interested in Stu Robson's (Hi Stu!) brand new Design System Newsletter. It looks like it's going to bring a steady stream of design system goodness right to your face on a regular basis. Sign up!

And that's it for now. As always, you can follow along with project updates here. And if you would like to support the project (and haven't done so already), you can preorder the book here for $10. If you have any questions or have any feedback for me, feel free to contact me via email or on Twitter. Thanks again for supporting Atomic Design!

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