Values and principles, Atlassian Design System

The Atlassian Design System team consists of over 30 designers, engineers, and content designers. As we scale, it has become harder to answer questions and concerns consistently, as a team, let alone coordinate our team to work towards the same vision.

There was a clear need to come together – onboard team members (some started during the COVID-19 pandemic) and get alignment on what the design system is and why we, as a team, exist. We have a mission and strategy, but over time we’d lost focus and connection to it. It was time to evolve.

Values and principles, a foundational step in our evolution as a team and system, can help:

  1. Clarify our identity.
  2. Establish a shared language.
  3. Align our team's point of view.
  4. Engage the team, and onboard new team.

The process

How our team things about vision, mission, values, and principles.

We broke down what values and principles are to us and where they fit with our strategy, mission, and company vision – values are the fundamental beliefs we hold true and principles are the guides to the behaviour that will help achieve our values.

At Atlassian, we have other values and principles that we work with regularly too. Company values, Atlassian Design principles, but we still need our own that work in conjunction with what already exists.

How our values and principles work in conjunction with other company values and principles

To help deliver on our values and principles, we ran two workshops. Initially, these were slated to be back-to-back days but organizing a 30+ person team event in a remote-first world is tough (calendar schedules, ugh). As a result, we split these workshops across two consecutive weeks. This allowed for scheduling across multiple timezones and gave us a chance to move quickly – we could drive the outputs from the first workshop to completion and then use them to kick off the second workshop. Deadlines were our friends.


At Atlassian, we believe in principles. We believe they have the ability to connect both people and work, and for the Design System, we wanted our principles to capture specific things about our team. They should:

  • Be inspired and driven by our values.
  • Help us make tradeoffs and decisions.
  • Capture our point-of-view and sense of prioritization.
  • Be easy to understand and remember.

To capture this, we frame our principles as…

Presenting how we want to frame our principles

I’d used a particular framing in my previous Product Design Team. I wanted to try and bring this to a cross-functional Design System Team. Other framing methods we explored aren’t always easily applicable. They can’t be used to drive work forward. This framing, in my experience, allows for that.

We facilitated a remote-only workshop for 20+ people from design, engineering, content, and program management.

For the principles, the team dumped all of the regular and repeated discussions, questions, and challenges we face in one place. Nothing was off-limits (🌶 welcome). We wanted to understand the challenges as a team and not just a single discipline. We wanted to build empathy for the challenges our teammates face. Using our values, we grouped our ideas. Our principles, if they’re doing their job correctly, help us uphold these values.

The breadth of discussion and input was incredible although somewhat intimidating, but as we went about synthesizing the work, clear themes emerged. We spent the week refining and referring back to the workshop – discussions, grouping, and voting exercises – to leverage this values creation for our principles.

A few of us, who’d planned the workshops, were then responsible for synthesizing all of these discussions into principles. We iterated, reviewed, sparred, and repeated this process many times. We were always conscious to remember the essence of the workshops and the context discussed. (We’d recorded these and reviewed them once or twice to make sure).

Output of our principles workshop
A screenshot of our principles workshop MURAL board

There were 3 values and 6 principles. 2 principles for each value.

We presented to the triads above. During the sparring process, we received feedback that the principles are trying too hard to do too many things – team processes can be addressed in other ways, not through values and principles, and we should focus on the merit of our system with this work. Reflecting on this feedback, the principles were drifting away from being memorable and capturing the wrong perspectives. We were able to consolidate our principles to bring more focus to the design system – this helped with clarity and consistency. They now spoke to the system, being part of it, consuming it, and contributing to it.

Value

Foundational

We solve the common problems for all, small and large, to provide a solid foundation that consumers can confidently build upon. We avoid consistency for the sake of consistency and reject infinite flexibility.

Principle

Trusted fundamentals before comprehensive patterns

  • We solve common foundational problems, enabling consumers to focus on their product experiences.
  • We provide opinionated building blocks, which allow consumers to compose more complex, bespoke experiences. We don’t support unlimited flexibility but offer a robust foundation for consumers to build upon.
  • We ensure quality through research and clear standards (accessibility, responsiveness, reusability) — otherwise, it can’t exist in the system. (Build with heart and balance).
  • We consider scale, starting with enterprise-level platform needs.

Value

Harmonious

Our building blocks work together to create a suite of products that feel familiar, cohesive, and part of a family. We strive to gain trust through intent and purpose.

Principle

Meeting system needs before delivering features

  • We bring in all perspectives to co-create and shape our design language.
  • We finish what we start, especially before starting something new — a limited, but complete, cross-functional experience is better than the sum of many incomplete, single-function solutions.
  • We are informed by continuous feedback. (Don’t #@!% the customer).
  • We don’t stop at shipping — documentation, support, deprecation, and maintenance should always be considered for the best consumer experience.

Value

Empowering, for everyone

We strive to make our design system work for everyone who relies on it, regardless of discipline, skill level, or tenure. By enabling as many people as possible to use the system, we multiply our impact.

Principle

Bringing people on the journey before helping for the moment

  • We bring consumers into our process to educate, build trust, and create a sense of shared ownership.
  • We prioritize the best service experience. We take the time to provide consumers the right amount of resources, support, and context. (Open company, no bullshit).
  • We optimize for self-service through our tools and information. We want consumers to independently make decisions with confidence.
  • We want consumers to become champions — we inspire them to improve their craft — and in turn, we improve ours too.

Measuring success

We had our values and principles, with support, from the triads that we’d created as a team. Amongst the fun and team alignment, we always wanted to emerge with tangible outcomes that could help us push towards our end goals.

Alongside publishing our values and principles on atlassian.design for everyone to see, use, and hold us accountable for, we wanted more use out of these. We’ve been calling out the application of values and principles during our team syncs and in Slack. It’s been exciting to see them being applied with almost zero effort to evangelize outside of the work itself.

Shoutout to the team for using the principles

We knew the sentiment for the workshops and their outputs were positive before the final values and principles had even been completed. The team was excited to have created something together.

Feedback from the team on the workshops and outputs
Feedback from the team on the workshops and outputs

To push these even further, we set goals around championing, demonstrating, and advocating. We set a goal to monitor usage numbers as well as outcomes of that. It’s one thing to help drive work forward, but the work needs to be completed, resolved, and successful.

You can read see our values and principles on atlassian.design or read more about the creation process on Medium.

Lead Designer

2021

See the work ↗