December 13, 2017

Why We Only Take Projects That Include Design Systems

We find design systems endlessly fascinating at Basalt. We love talking about them, we love building them, and we believe they’re the keystone for making the web better. And while we’re a young company, we already know that our passion for design systems is no adolescent crush: they’re our wheelhouse, our bread and butter. And we won’t take a project that doesn’t have a design system at its core.

We wanted to take a moment to explain why this is—both because it illuminates who we are as an organization, and illuminates our core beliefs about building on the web.

A focused area of expertise is invaluable

We’re a new technology company, and know that the work we do will define who we are and shape our future as an organization. And because we’re actively exploring and growing, we’ve got an open mind when it comes to potential projects. But we’re not in the same position as a more mainstream web development company: even in our early stages, we know our niche.

Design systems, though, is a pretty broad umbrella. Instead of seeing it as a limitation, we see a wealth of possibilities.

If you liken a newly-established company’s evolution to an hourglass, and time moves in the same direction the sand does, most companies (and tech companies in particular) begin at the top of the hourglass, with a larger breadth of possible business directions: they consider their potential futures in broad strokes. We see ourselves as beginning somewhere closer to the hourglass’ middle—our cards are already on the table. Basalt is about building design systems, and advancing design systems thinking for the benefit of our clients.

This more focused scope, though, contains volumes:

  • Design systems as a product
  • Designing and maintaining component libraries
  • Component-driven development
  • Managing a house of brands within a single design system
  • Omnichannel communications

The array of potential applications and products is a pretty extensive constellation. And we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to focus on it.

Immediately specializing in what we’re best at means leveraging our excellence early

Any organization advances along a learning curve as it masters its craft: its products, its processes, and so forth. We feel incredibly fortunate to have a jump on that curve because of the people we have. CTO, Evan Lovely, embodies this acceleration: Evan is Pattern Lab’s PHP maintainer, and he’s been a respected design systems thinker in the industry since long before we were a company. Because Pattern Lab is one of our principal technology tools, and our CTO maintains it, we not only help shape the industry stance on the nexus between open source software and design systems, we get to rock design systems from day one.

Better Design Systems = A Better Web

We want to lead by example by using suites of open-source tools to create the best design systems out there—because it’s good for our clients, but also because because of a larger, more philosophical reason: we want to help make the web better. We’re in a great position to do that with Evan and Pattern Lab—it’s a robust tool that we can pick up and use instantly, and virtuosically. We want others to be able to do so, too, and part of our mission with design systems is to exemplify how this is possible. We want to make the web better by illuminating new possibilities for building on the web.

Focusing on our passion allows us to align ourselves according to what we care about most

This self-knowledge—that at the outset, no matter what happens, Basalt is and will always be about design systems—tunes our focus as a young company. It drives hiring, and it drives the types of projects and the types of work we’re willing to take on, each of which determines the ways in which we grow. Only taking projects that include design systems may seem like a whittling-down, but we view it the opposite way: it allows us to expand our depth. It ensures that everything we do is servicing the advancement of our understanding and our abilities in design systems.