Speaker Spotlight: Amy Hupe

By Oliver Lindberg06 Jun 2024Interviews

Having worked on design systems for the likes of GOV.UK, BT, and Babylon Health, Amy Hupe has learned a thing or two about what causes them to fail. Ahead of her closing keynote at Pixel Pioneers Bristol, we asked her a few questions 

What currently excites you and what concerns you the most about design systems?

I’m excited to see more conversations around what I believe to be at the heart of good design systems: people. I see more and more conversations about things like governance, community, accessibility and cross-industry knowledge sharing, which gives me hope that we’ll see design systems becoming a true human-centered practice.

My biggest concern is the increasing reliance on AI to “take care of” design systems documentation. Despite the relative maturity of design systems as a field, our documentation collectively leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the documentation I see falls at the extreme ends of being either too verbose, or lacking important detail. We are unimaginative when it comes to documentation that meets users where they are, still leaning on neglected documentation websites to host the bulk of our guidance when our users spend most of their time in Figma, a code editor or Storybook. There’s no doubt that AI affords us some exciting opportunities, but only if we use it responsibly and with an awareness that its data source, today, is flawed.

What can we expect to take away from your talk?

My talk will explore how we can move away from thinking of design systems as a formulaic checklist of things to deliver, and towards creating fit-for-purpose systems that work with the wider context they exist in.

I’ll share some past mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve learned from them, as well as insights into creating design systems that can weather change, and stand the test of time.

What are some common issues you hear from clients when you support them with their design system strategy?

The biggest issue I encounter is around low adoption. Many organisations I work with have invested significant time and money into building comprehensive design systems, only to discover that — months later — colleagues continue to default to local UI kits and component libraries, ignoring their new and shiny successors.

This usually comes down to a gap in our thinking.

We often get so laser-focused on delivering the artefacts that our design systems comprise — the documentation, the Figma libraries, the code — that we forget about the work involved in changing people’s mindsets and behaviours.

Design systems are about more than delivering new tools and processes: they’re about creating culture change that supports a strong, inclusive user experience and organisationally-efficient workflows.

Will there be another season of your podcast Systems of Harm

I’d love to make another series and I’ve already got a guest wishlist in the notes app on my phone.

If I manage to secure the people I hope to, you can expect to hear about the role of design systems when it comes to supporting intersectional feminism, accessibility, and often-overlooked social groups like domestic abuse survivors and those who are digitally-excluded.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve received so much good advice from talented colleagues and wise friends and family. But the one that springs to mind at this moment is something I heard from coach and author Sara Wachter-Boettcher on how to cope with feelings of powerlessness.

She says that rather than getting too focused on what we can’t control, we should ask ourselves “What can I do from where I sit?”.

Sometimes we get stuck thinking about how much more we could achieve if we had more power, but the truth is that we all have the ability to influence the people, systems and environments around us.

I remind myself of this often when I feel stuck, or like my work doesn’t make a difference. 

At Pixel Pioneers Bristol, Amy Hupe will give advice on how not to kill a design system. The conference will also cover modern CSS layouts, AI and practical prompt engineering tips, mindful design, approaching technical migrations safely and sensibly, and more. Get your ticket today!