Once an agency team is ready to adopt the design system — whether they’re working on a large-scale redesign or simply making incremental updates over time — they want to quickly understand how it works, what capabilities it provides, what their first steps should be, and how to create a sustainable, long-term path forward.

Deploy the design system regardless of their starting point

Each team has unique needs and is at a different starting point, and the tactical aspects of deploying the design system need to be approachable from many different angles and skill sets. Many people found the USWDS website relevant but overwhelming, and they expressed a wish for more “step-by-step” breakdowns of what they needed to do.

While much of the content on the USWDS website is easy to understand for engineers and designers, it may be intimidating to non-technical team members or limiting for those who are trying to build support at a leadership level.

USWDS could help people wrap their heads around what the different models are and how to use USWDS based on what paradigm they are using (agencies with a central location vs subsites, etc.). — Manager
Coming on to the home page of the USWDS site is a little bit overwhelming. But it depends on the audience. If you’re showing it to devs and designers it’s okay. — Designer
Even 8 or 12 hours of support would be helpful for teams. Being able to troubleshoot or onboard new teams to discuss how to re-architect their website to your design system is critical. — Designer

See it in action

In order to fully understand the design system’s capabilities, agency teams want to see it in action and be able to compare it to other commonly used open-source frameworks. They want to see how other government websites use the design system so they can begin to visualize the full breadth of options it provides.

While many agency teams are used to how things look in the frameworks they’re currently using, getting started with USWDS requires a bit of learning. Helping ease this transition by demonstrating how things work and what’s actually different from other frameworks, instead of just describing them, will shorten the learning curve and make agencies feel more confident about using something new.

Have examples of how components are being used, like a gallery. Not just a list of what sites are using it. — Designer
A lot of people are just familiar with tools like Bootstrap and they’ve mastered it. Maybe USWDS could show ‘Here’s what x looks like in Bootstrap; here’s what ours looks like.’ Stuff like that can really put people’s minds at ease. — Industry expert

Overcome compatibility and integration hurdles

Sometimes USWDS isn’t compatible with an organization’s existing site framework, or teams may have committed to other systems preferred by their vendors. In these instances, developers must do significant work to retrofit and adopt USWDS for other content management systems or user interface libraries, which requires even more engineering time and expertise to work through.

Agency teams are finding workarounds and solutions to make their tech stacks and platforms compatible, but many indicated that it often requires routine or manual overrides and fixes. Agencies are willing to transition to something new, but given how widely-used content management systems are across the federal government, it will remain a key bottleneck for new customers.

We don’t know if your code will work inside our system. — Content manager
Getting Drupal and USWDS to work together can be pretty energy intensive. — Manager
Some things - out of the box Bootstrap, sizes, colors, etc. - couldn’t use anything that came with it. So we had to figure out all the values and override them and any time something changes we have to find out how to override it. — Engineer

Learn how to scale over time

Agency teams are also looking for a way to benchmark their current status and receive more support on how to scale with USWDS over time. It’s hard for agencies to map implementation of USWDS against their own web modernization priorities: What’s most important? What can be done in the near-term with limited resources?

Though USWDS has a maturity model, it doesn’t currently provide the level of detail or direction agencies are looking for. While the design principles and maturity model provide a good vision for where agencies should be headed, that change can’t happen all at once, and agencies want more support on how to balance trade-offs and priorities at different stages of adoption.

We’ve been talking about the three levels of adoption of USWDS, but I don’t really have a great understanding of the design system in general, figuring out how we get started. — Manager
Doing some prioritization would be helpful — what would have the greatest impact — for agencies to start thinking about. For a smaller team to have some sense of prioritization would be really good. — Civic tech leader
It’s important for agencies to have a free baseline. — Manager

Conversation starters

We should look for innovative ways to give agencies extra support as they get started with the design system and continue to grow its adoption.

  • How might we tailor the website to be more approachable for different audiences, including non-technical skill sets?

  • How might we better support agencies in transitioning from other design systems or to support diverse web technologies?

  • How might we better support agencies to understand where they are today and where they need to get to?