Creating and Managing Accessible Design Systems

A presentation at John Slatin AccessU 2023 in in Austin, TX, USA by Karen Hawkins

Design teams are harnessing the power that design systems offer, creating digital solutions efficiently, consistently, and at scale. Yet, many of these systems are failing to address the needs of all audiences. From tokens to annotations, each step in the creation of and maintenance of a design system must consider and incorporate digital accessibility.

As organizations mature, they tend to rely more heavily on systematized processes and standardized tools. Design systems facilitate that standardization, and they act as a single source of truth for many stakeholders. The benefits of having a design system are well known, and more and more design and development teams are moving towards this level of maturity. There are certainly gaps in process and tooling, such as the cliché handoff from design to development. At the same time, organizations are similarly maturing in their application of accessibility into their processes. These teams are facing additional issues regarding who is responsible for which aspects of accessibility, and where and how to document accessibility considerations.

In this talk we will focus on how design teams can incorporate more accessibility considerations into the design, documentation, testing, and handoff workflows in creating and maintaining their design systems. We will touch on considerations for small and large organizations, as well as enterprise organizations that have multiple design systems to integrate and maintain.