Exploring Contribution Models for Design Systems

07 February 2023
5.0 min read

Design systems play a crucial role in ensuring consistency and efficiency in product development. They provide a centralized repository of components, guidelines, and best practices that can be reused across projects. However, creating and maintaining a design system is not a one-person job and requires collaboration from multiple teams, including product development teams. One challenge in this process is how to effectively involve product teams in the contribution of components and updates to the design system.

In this blog post, we'll explore different contribution models and analyze their strengths and weaknesses to help organizations find the best approach for their needs.

Self-Contribution Model

The self-contribution model is based on the idea that product teams build components on their own and bring them to the design system. This model is widely adopted and often seen as a straightforward way to involve product teams in the design system. However, this approach can lead to several problems.

First, the model doesn't scale well. It assumes that product teams will have the time and motivation to contribute to the design system, but in reality, it's rare to have more than one or two enthusiastic contributors. This can lead to a lack of diversity in components and a slow pace of updates to the design system.

Second, the requirements of components in the design system are often different from those of individual projects. Design system components need to fulfill more requirements, such as accessibility, performance, and scalability, to ensure consistency across products. On the other hand, components in individual projects may prioritize different requirements, such as unique branding or functionalities. This can create a disconnect between the design system and product development teams and demotivate product developers from contributing.

Finally, product development teams may not have the necessary skills and resources to contribute to the design system. They may lack the understanding of design system components and guidelines, or they may not have the tools and processes to integrate their components into the design system.


  • Easy to understand and implement
  • Encourages collaboration between product development and design system teams


  • Does not scale well
  • Creates disconnect between the design system and product development teams
  • Requires product teams to have the time and motivation to contribute

Pulling the Contributions Model

The pulling the contributions model is based on a different approach. Instead of asking product teams to contribute to the design system, this model allows product teams to build their own design systems, as long as they are built on top of the global company design system. This approach has several advantages over the self-contribution model.

First, product teams have more control over their design systems. They can experiment with different components and updates and have the freedom to prioritize their requirements. This can lead to a more motivated and engaged product development team.

Second, this approach allows the design system team to see the components and requirements of different product teams. When similar components emerge across multiple sub-design-systems, the design system team can then "pull" these contributions and develop a component in the global design system that replaces them. This process can lead to a better understanding of the requirements of different products and a more comprehensive design system.

Finally, this approach can lead to a more efficient use of resources. The design system team can focus on developing components that are used by multiple product teams, instead of developing components for each individual project.


  • Allows product teams to have more control over their design systems
  • Provides better understanding of requirements of different products
  • Increases efficiency in resource allocation


The drawbacks of the new model should be considered carefully:

  • Increased complexity
    This model introduces an extra layer of complexity, as the design system team will need to manage multiple sub-design systems and ensure they are aligned with the global design system.

  • Potential for fragmentation
    If sub-design systems are not properly managed and integrated, there is a risk of fragmentation and inconsistent design across different products.

  • Missed opportunities for collaboration
    By giving product teams complete control over their own design systems, there may be missed opportunities for collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas and best practices.

  • Lack of control
    The design system team may have less control over the development of sub-design systems, which could lead to subpar components or a deviation from the overall design guidelines.

  • Requires additional resources
    This model requires additional resources, including tools for analyzing the code and tracking changes, as well as a larger design system team to manage the integration of sub-design systems into the global design system.

  • Slow implementation
    Integrating multiple sub-design systems into a global design system can be a time-consuming process, which may result in delays and slow implementation.

  • Maintaining consistency
    Maintaining consistency across multiple sub-design systems and ensuring they are integrated with the global design system can be a challenge, especially if the design system is constantly evolving.

Despite these drawbacks, the "pulling the contributions" model offers unique benefits and can be a viable option for companies looking to enhance their design system and promote collaboration across teams. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of each contribution model and make a decision based on the specific needs and resources of the company. Ultimately, the success of a design system depends on a combination of factors, including clear goals, flexible processes, and effective communication and collaboration between product and design teams.

In conclusion, there are several approaches to designing a successful contribution model for a design system. The traditional model, where product teams are expected to contribute components on their own, has limited scalability and may not effectively address the unique requirements of each product. An alternative approach is "pulling the contributions", where product teams are given the autonomy to develop their own design systems and the design system team can later integrate the best components. This model has the potential to address the requirements of each product more effectively and promote collaboration across teams, but it also requires resources and tools for analysis and tracking. Ultimately, the right contribution model will depend on the specific needs and resources of each company and can be adjusted as the design system evolves. Regardless of the approach, a successful design system should be flexible, scalable, and aligned with the needs of the product teams and the overall business goals.

Cover photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

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