Building better: How Sketch helps Salesforce maintain its industry-leading design system

A good design system makes everyone’s life easier. It gives designers the elements and guidance they need to work within an approved structure. It helps developers work with predictable, consistent components. And it helps businesses design and build new products, faster — all with consistent user experiences.

And if you know design systems, you probably know Salesforce. Its Lightning Design System is an industry leader, with thousands of components, clear instructions, and sensible, considered decisions about color and sizing. Plus, it comes with a Sketch Library, so it’s super simple to pick up and use.

The LDS has evolved a great deal since its launch in 2015, but after speaking to Kirupa Chinnathambi, Senior Director of PM on the system, it’s clear that the core goals remain the same today. “As Stephanie Rewis, one of the founding engineers of the Lightning Design System describes, the initial goals were around providing a scalable and maintainable way for teams to adopt the latest evolution of our UX guidance,” he says. For the team, that means great documentation, plenty of visual assets, strong communication channels and feedback loops across the ecosystem, and much more.

An early version of the Lightning Design System home page

“Today, we take these two goals and their outputs for granted,” Kirupa continues. “But when the Lightning Design System was first coming online, the team was really paving new ground with little prior art to reference.” Today, the team are constantly evolving what the LDS does — and basing that evolution on research, customer feedback, telemetry and industry trends. But those original two goals are never far from the forefront.

But there’s another key aspect that makes the LDS such a huge success. One that is more about people than design.

Making it personal

“One of the biggest aspects for us is having good relationships with the teams that use our design system to build their UX,” says Kirupa. With the Lightning Design System, that’s everyone from internal teams at Salesforce that are evolving the company’s various products, to external designers and developers who use the platform for their own solutions.

“One of the biggest aspects for us is having good relationships with the teams that use our design system to build their UX”

“Keeping in close communication — directly and indirectly — across our vast ecosystem is a time-consuming task. But it’s also really rewarding, because it ensures we spend our time building the right things.”

And those relationships have another valuable benefit for the team, too. A behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the roles of design and engineering are constantly evolving. “We get a more accurate, dotted-line roadmap that we can be creative in filling out,” Kirupa explains. “Our investments in design and developer tools, which are fairly unique for a design system team, is one example of how we react to these insights in a targeted way.”

For Salesforce, those tools include a powerful Sketch plugin, dedicated UI design kits and, most recently, a new Assistant — the Lightning Design System Linter.

Rules are made to be followed

When we released Assistants with Sketch 68, we wanted to help you spot issues with your documents, stay consistent with design systems and prepare your files for collaboration. For Salesforce, creating an Assistant that helped users follow the LDS rules was

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