Agency teams want reassurance that the design system and related support will continue long into the future so they can get continued agency-level organizational support for iterative design, development, improvements, and upgrades over time.

Cultivate internal support

Government planning and budgeting processes tend to be oriented toward initial support to “launch” a new or updated website or service, rather than planning for long-term iterative delivery. But even if teams are able to get an initial deployment off the ground, they need to continue to corral organizational support and resources to make ongoing improvements, keep up with design system upgrades, and respond to changing user needs.

We heard that decisions related to implementing USWDS are often spread across different roles and levels of authority, instead of sitting with one team. These bureaucratic challenges can create ongoing obstacles for teams wanting to follow the design principles and mature their digital delivery over time.

We want to do things that are right, but have to wait until they say “thou shalt,” so to speak. — Content manager
There’s often a large separation between the IT org (with the contractors who own website updates) and the people who are thinking about the information their website should have (contact centers, county offices, etc.) We should be able to put websites in the hands of the actual agencies that own them. — Civic tech leader

Continue to improve

The design system plays an important role in supporting agency website maintenance and governance, but it’s still finding the right balance between centralized management and individual agency responsibility.

Because design system implementation is decentralized, ongoing development and updates to the core product happen agency by agency, project by project. Early adopters of the design system reported significant challenges in updating from version 1 to version 2, given the major changes to its underlying architecture and framework. And as the design system continues to evolve by adding new components, better enabling multilingual sites, and publishing additional usability and accessibility guidance, agencies need easier ways to stay up-to-date.

The cost of making updates to the design system (especially new major versions) needs to be balanced by the relative cost for each agency to make those changes. On the other side, agency teams need to have the right processes and work streams to stay current as the design system continues to evolve and improve.

When you’re maintaining a design system at a platform level with other teams and vendors in this space, how do you be a good custodian of that without it tipping over? — Designer
Treat the system like a product and like a service. Look at continuity and investment. How responsive are we to our customers? Support, training, communication. — Industry expert

Conversation starters

We need to explore how we can better help agencies scale and maintain the design system within their sites in order for them to be successful in the long term.

  • How might we support a shared understanding of governance and maintenance?

  • How might we provide more extensive customer-support to USWDS users?

  • How might we support stronger collaboration and processes between roles involved in website maintenance?