The downsides of design systems

13 issues design and engineering teams face

Andrew Coyle
2 min readAug 14, 2023


Over the last decade, design systems have gained popularity for their benefits, such as improving consistency, collaboration, and efficiency — they also come with some notable downsides.

This article explores potential issues designers and teams face when building and maintaining design systems.

1. Initial Time Investment

Building a comprehensive design system takes time. Before reaping the benefits, teams must spend significant resources establishing guidelines, components, and documentation. Design and engineering teams often start with an existing solution like MUI or Tailwind UI to mitigate the time it takes to build a new design system from scratch.

2. Maintaining and Updating

The design system will need updates over time as software or branding evolves. If not maintained, it can become outdated quickly. Building new product features is usually the main priority, and investing in the design system is often deprioritized.

3. Flexibility Concerns

Rigidity can sometimes be an issue. Teams may find that the components only fit some unique needs, leading to workarounds that might compromise the integrity of the design system.

4. Overhead for Small Projects

For small projects or startups with rapid iteration needs, a design system might seem overkill and slow them down. A comprehensive design system can overwhelm teams with implementation considerations and slow innovation.

5. Difficult Implementation

Existing projects might find adopting a new design system challenging, as it may require a significant overhaul of the existing user interface.

6. Resistance to Change

Team members may resist adopting the design system, especially if it restricts creativity or creates unneeded complexity.

7. Standardization vs. Innovation

Standardization might stifle innovation. Designers may feel limited in exploring new design solutions if they have to stick strictly to the design system.

8. Complexity

As a design system grows, it might become complex and harder to understand, especially for newcomers.

9. Training and Onboarding

Every new team member would need to familiarize themselves with the design system, which could lead to a steeper learning curve.

10. Potential Over-reliance

Teams might rely too much on the design system and occasionally need to pay more attention to the need to re-evaluate the overall user experience.

11. Versioning Issues

If there are multiple versions of the design system being used across different projects, it can lead to consistency.

12. Cross-functional Alignment

Getting buy-in and ensuring alignment across different teams (design, development, product management) can be challenging.

13. Diverse User Needs

A one-size-fits-all approach might not cater to the needs of diverse user groups. It’s essential to ensure that the design system is inclusive and caters to the accessibility needs of various users.

Consider these issues before building a design system. If you’d like to learn how to build a design system, I wrote an article that can help you.



Andrew Coyle

Formerly @Flexport @Google @Intuit @HeyHealthcare (YC S19)