Specs are dead, and designers are like DJs

Free Association
2 min readMar 5, 2021


Measurement has given way to a new kind of spec — design intent. To this end, modern design systems and tools have largely been a force for good. But like anything, change doesn’t come without raising big questions.

Episode summary

Traditional design systems are similar to the print-driven brand manuals of yesteryear, focusing largely on measurement. But today’s design system creators need only worry about those measurements once, because components are reusable and should know how to behave in a product context. This has led to a new kind of design spec, focused on capturing design intent over measurement. While these principles or “modern specs” can help unlock higher-order UX thinking, it’s important to realize their limitations and avoid the temptation to systematize every creative decision.

“We’re getting closer to the medium that we’re designing for — it’s no longer a file that’s trying to capture a picture of the thing that then needs to be built.”

As modern design systems and tools continue to evolve, the design discipline will undoubtedly change along with them. At least a subset of future designers will likely focus on improving the “system of the systems” — making the tools easier and more efficient to use. But we’d wager these tools don’t change the fundamental purpose or goal of the design process, which is to be empathetic and discover new solutions to age-old problems. Ultimately, the efficiencies gleaned from advanced tooling should let designers spend more time (not less) unlocking creative thinking.

“There will always be a place for the human side in design, for empathy and for creating things that delight end users.”