The Eternal Struggle Against Entropy in Design Systems

An unsorted pile of LEGO

In design systems, one can't help but feel engaged in an eternal crusade against disorder and entropy. It's akin to tending to a garden overrun with weeds, where our vigilant efforts ensure that chaos is kept at bay. The struggle against entropy in design systems is not merely a cosmetic endeavour but a foundational principle that can significantly impact an application's overall quality, maintainability, and scalability.

This battle is an ongoing process that demands continuous improvement, iteration, and refinement. As an application's needs and complexities evolve, so must the design system. This requires a delicate balance between consistency and adaptability, ensuring the design system remains coherent while accommodating new use cases and requirements.

A closer look at Components and Context

The minutiae of individual components within these design systems often consume our attention. And yet, we seem to neglect the vital aspect of comprehending the context in which these components are deployed and their intricate interconnections. By understanding the relationships between components and the context in which they are used, we can create more cohesive and intuitive design systems.

A holistic view of components and their relationships allows us to identify common patterns and establish a shared vocabulary. This shared vocabulary streamlines communication within the development team and facilitates the reuse and extension of components, which helps reduce entropy.

Entropy Unveiled: Spotting the Differences

To witness entropy in action, consider a "spot the difference" game involving numerous comparable views or experiences. Observe the diverse implementations crafted by n developers, and one begins to grasp the nature of entropy in design systems. Each developer may introduce subtle deviations, inconsistencies, or redundancies, which collectively contribute to the system's overall entropy.

Addressing these discrepancies requires both vigilance and collaboration. Developers must be mindful of the potential for divergence and maintain consistency. Also, fostering an open communication and collaboration culture can help ensure the entire team is aligned to minimise entropy.

The Complexity of Design Systems: Networks of Connected Context

Provide N developers with N views and a suite of components, and they'll inevitably concoct N distinct solutions. It's crucial to recognise that design systems are far from mere haphazard assemblies of components; they're more akin to sophisticated networks of interrelated contexts.

These networks can be thought of as intricate webs of relationships, where each component is influenced by its surrounding environment and its interactions with other components.

Embracing this interconnectedness can lead to more robust and versatile design systems. By acknowledging and leveraging the relationships between components, developers can create a more cohesive user experience and streamline the development process.

React Patterns: Harmonizing Components

Enter the world of React patterns. A pattern is, in essence, a harmonious ensemble of components masterfully orchestrated to perform in unison. This can be achieved through wrapping pre-existing components or utilising React Context to establish implicit relationships behind the scenes. Regardless of the approach, these patterns are designed to collaborate seamlessly and can be repurposed across various views to address specific challenges.

React patterns are a powerful tool for battling entropy, as they provide a clear and consistent framework for implementing common design patterns. Developers can ensure a more uniform and maintainable codebase by encapsulating the logic and relationships within these patterns.

Strategies for Managing Entropy in Design Systems

So, how can one curtail the creeping entropy within their design systems? Here are a few strategies to consider:

1. Examine similar layout contexts

Scrutinise similar layout contexts throughout your codebases and applications. You can extract reusable components and patterns by identifying commonalities, reducing redundancy and promoting consistency.

2. Integrate a Pattern library

Incorporate a pattern library into your design system for developers to employ. A well-organised pattern library is a valuable resource for the team, providing a shared understanding of the available components and patterns. This simplifies the development process and helps ensure that each team member adheres to the established guidelines, resulting in a more consistent and maintainable system.

3. Distribute tasks across appropriate roles

Delegate tasks among different roles, such as "Front of the Frontend", "Back of the Frontend", and varying levels of seniority. By distributing responsibilities, you can ensure that each aspect of the design system is given the appropriate level of attention and expertise. Encouraging collaboration between team members with diverse skill sets can also lead to more innovative and well-rounded solutions, ultimately reducing entropy.


By implementing these tactics, you'll be well-equipped to manage the ever-present entropy in your design systems, fostering a more harmonious and cohesive environment for your components to thrive. As you embark on this journey, remember that the battle against entropy is ongoing and requires a steadfast commitment to continuous improvement. By staying vigilant, collaborating effectively, and embracing the interconnected nature of design systems, you can create an elegant, efficient, and adaptable foundation for your applications.

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© 2023 Jack-Edward Oliver
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