CodePen as a Component Editor

When we started working on Duet Design System early last year, one of our goals was to create similar component playgrounds as I had previously built for Vue Design System. While this seemed like an obvious decision at first, we soon realized that maintaining a code editor of our own required far too much effort, especially since Duet’s documentation is a custom built platform created for a specific organization’s needs.

This is when we realized we need to find a simpler approach. Maybe we didn’t even need to have this as a part of the documentation itself. The most important goal was to have a code playground which would enable quick prototyping and testing.

This got us thinking. We were already using CodePen when we needed to quickly prototype or design something in the browser. Could we utilize the same tool for the public website as well to make the component documentation more interactive?

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Why We Use Web Components

It’s August, 2018. I’m at the office, sitting by the window staring rain pouring down from the sky. A warm cup of tea in my hand, about to sip it, but the phone suddenly rings. I don’t recognize the number. I hesitate for a moment whether to pick it up or not. Maybe it’s again a telemarketer trying to sell me something?

Thinking of this particular autumn evening today, a year and a half later, I’m delighted I picked up the phone. This one phone call ended up having a major impact, as the end result was the biggest personal project I have worked on so far.

While I used to work with bigger clients and projects when we lived in United States, this felt different. I personally sold the project and were responsible for most of the things from initial research all the way to the design system’s overall architecture.

A few months went by after our first call. I went to see the client during a couple of occasions to plan the possible collaboration. After some back and forth negotiation we ultimately started working together in the beginning of January, 2019.

And so Duet Design System was born.

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Design System Won’t Fix Your Problems

Ever read an article praising design systems and how they magically solve design and frontend challenges? I’ve sure seen this being repeated in one form or another. Maybe not with these exact exaggerated words, but the underlying message has been close. While there might be a spark of truth there somewhere, it can be quite misleading to make this kind of statements without explaining what’s really required.

You might’ve seen or been on the other side as well, where organizations invest large sums of money to hire external agencies to create design systems for them. These agencies often work completely detached in their own silos and only claim to blend into the client’s organization. While this is a good business model for the agencies selling and creating these systems, it rarely works out for the client organization.

Real life example of this behaviour: a manager at Organization Y hears about design systems and how they solved the challenges of Organization X. They want to get on the bandwagon as well. Agency Z sees this as a money making opportunity and sells them a team of designers and developers who will design and build the system for Organization Y. The starting price is over one million US dollars.

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Vue Design System

Vue Design System is a set of organized tools, patterns, and practices that work as the foundation for Vue.js application development. What initially started as a quick-n-dirty prototyping tool for a client of mine, has grown into a fully capable systems tool that provides an environment where the pattern library and live application can be perfectly in sync.

For me personally, Vue Design System has become as much of a design systems teaching and learning platform, as it is a tool that’s capable of growing from a prototype to a fully fleshed-out system that multiple applications can depend on.

In this article, I will shed some light to the processes and workflow I use to get started with a new design system project. An article, I would’ve wanted to come across when first starting with design systems and trying to figure out the best approaches. While I’ve written this from Vue Design System’s perspective, the concepts and processes I introduce here will work with any tool.

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Workspace

I’m happy. I’ve been succesfully running my design studio for the past 8 months and recently moved into a new office space. Since then I’ve been setting up the workspace to suit the way I want to work and create things. This dedicated quiet space gives me the luxury to focus and get much more done than I could get anywhere else before.

While I find myself constantly switching between different working modes like running a design systems workshop, working at client’s premises, or doing a remote meeting with a team in another city, I like having this personal space where I can come back to think and focus. A space for exploration and tinkering.

My workspace is a part of a bigger office, but with a dedicated room and a door. This is what my setup currently looks like (click for bigger photos):

My workspaceWorkspace with lots of wall to draw on

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Work in Progress

March, 2017. We were still living in the United States. It was a time of great anxiety for us. Just a couple weeks earlier I had been laid off from my previous job in California, Donald Trump had become the president, and we were suddenly living in this foreign country without valid Visas and no plans for the future whatsoever.

There we were, about to have a baby, not able to fly back to Europe anymore and trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. The company I used to work for got sold and our previous Visas couldn’t be transferred, which basically got us here. Just a week before all this started, I remember discussing with my wife how I could see us growing old in this country.

For a moment it felt like a bad dream in which we were fugitives living on enemy soil. In some ways, that dream felt real and vivid to us. I mean, it sounds frankly awkward when saying it out loud now, but back then so many things happened at once. I wasn’t even sure if it was legal for us to stay in the country after our Visas expired, so I tried to keep my mouth shut as well as I could. If anyone asked; It was good. It was all going so good.

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On Design Tools
and Processes

For the past year(s) I’ve been chasing for answers. Looking for new tools, thinking about design processes and figuring out what design really means to me. At times I’ve felt so disconnected with our pro­cesses that I’ve wondered if my career choice was right.

For a field rooted in the fine arts this period of change has been increasingly hard and is about to get even harder. We’ve moved away from designing static pages to creating digital systems of components, but we’ve done that mostly by using the same static design tools like Illustrator, Sketch, or even Figma. Tools that haven’t changed on a fundamental level in the past three decades.

Now, I think there’s something wrong with that picture. Our design products are becoming more and more dynamic, but our tools still treat them as blank canvases to paint on. Why?

New York City Transit ManualNew York City Transit Manual. Image: Standards Manual

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