October 10, 2019

Lucy List: Building accessible design systems at TELUS Digital

Lucy List

Lucy List

User Researcher and Design Strategist, TELUS Digital

When this interview took place, Lucy List was the User Researcher and Design Strategist with TELUS Digital. She’s since moved on to become a Senior Product Designer at Shopify. Previous to both roles, she worked at Koodo as a UX Designer and Practice Lead.     

Eli Woolery: Lucy List, welcome to Conversations on DesignBetter.Co.

Lucy List: Thank you. I’m really, really excited to be here.

Eli: Great to have you. Could you talk a little bit about what TELUS is and what your role there is?
Lucy: We are a telecommunications company up in Canada. There are three big telco companies up here in Canada. And within those companies there are sub-brands as well. TELUS is one of the bigger corporations. We provide telecommunications across Canada on products and services for personal, small to large businesses like mobility, internet, home services, healthcare, and IPTV.

I am part of the TELUS Design System Team. I’m a design lead here. Previous to that I was actually working for Koodo, and that’s just a sub-brand of TELUS. They’re in telecommunications as well, and their audience is different since they’re a more lower-tiered brand company. When I moved over to TELUS, I started as the designer on the Telus Design System Team where we oversee and build out a design system for our team members to use.

Eli: So prior to Telus it sounds like you were at some smaller organizations. What were some of the things that you learned as you started to build out a design system at scale?

Lucy: Making sure that we aligned is one of the big takeaways. Also making sure that there’s a way to communicate out any of the standards or guidelines that we’ve aligned on. So how we build that in terms of communicating and how we build the system itself, and how we share that out with other designers or design team members, or just members in general.

Eli: Talk to me a little more about communicating out. What are some of the ways that you went about that?

Lucy: We have a bunch of ways that we can communicate out. We have what we call Meeting Mondays, where we just have all of our meetings on Mondays so that the rest of the week can be focused on maker time. That’s a company-wide thing that we’ve introduced and it’s one of the forms where teams, especially our team on the digital platform, are able to communicate out any changes, new releases, and updates to the greater audience. 

We also have Slack where we communicate those changes as well. And we also do a lot of break-out sessions where we’re teaching our team members how to use any of the new tools, plug-ins, or any of the new components that we release. There’s a training and educational piece around that, and we’re working on also creating a newsletter that we would share out monthly that would be a summary of all those things that we released throughout the month so that people who aren’t able to attend those meet-ups or those break-out sessions can have a high-level summary.

Eli: Wonderful. I love the idea of trying to concentrate all your meetings on Mondays. That sounds like a pretty good plan.

Lucy: Yeah. We started out in January, so it’s got a lot of kinks to it, but we’re slowly ironing out those processes. It’s been working so far. Everybody knows that Mondays is time for meetings, and it’s just focused on meetings that day; and then throughout the week we do still have other meetings, but it’s far and few between so we can focus more on down time and just focus on heads-down working time.

Eli: Great. That’s great. So over the summer you wrote an article on scaling design at TELUS. One of the things that you mentioned there was accessibility. Why is accessibility important in the design system?

Lucy: We think accessibility is important because our design system is built so that it enables our delivery teams to do what they want to do and it simplifies their path to production. And so we want to make sure that we’re thinking about all the things that they don’t have to. One of those things is accessibility, and then there’s coding standards that we have as well. And it’s all built in to our components, and so when we’re thinking about the components themselves, teams don’t have to worry about accessibility and how to code it properly to make sure it’s accessible. 

We do all the up-front grunt work for them so that they can focus on bigger things. And of course, accessibility is important because our audience is wide-ranging. We want to make sure that we’re including everybody in that, and all of our information is accessible to everyone.

Eli: In the article you also mention that you had a chance to use InVision’s Design System Manager (DSM). Could you talk a little bit about how you use that and how it may have helped you as you work on building out your system?

Lucy: It was awesome. We originally had a master sketch file that we would pass around to our design team. And this is a way that we shared all of our UI components and assets. This file was passed around, and every time we made a new release we would have to release a sketch file. And it was hard for our team members to kind of keep track of all the updates and all the components that were released and updated and changed. Especially if they were working already on a project. 

So having to get that new sketch file, trying to find that update, and then update it within their current work — that was super tedious for team members to do. And a lot of the times, team members wouldn’t do that, and so things would be pushed out with older components; although the code was updated, the design files weren’t. And so that just created this gap of misalignment from design and code perspective.

When we moved forward we wanted to have something in place that could help with that process. And so we checked out Craft Library. There was a bunch of other ones that I think we tested out, but we netted on Craft Library because we wanted to keep everything within InVision. We tested that out, and it proved to be a little bit buggy in terms of what we wanted it to do. So we weren’t able to kind of put the assets in a place where everyone could access it as well as have permissions for various design team members. And so it was still a great product, but it just didn’t meet some of the things that we were trying to accomplish and do.

And so when DSM came out in January, we jumped on board, and just made it our number one priority to get all of our design assets into that library. It’s proven to work really, really well. We can push updates to our design team. They’re able to stay consistent with the latest design system components, and we were able to grow it and have those updates pushed right away as soon as we released. It was just as well a single source of truth for all of our design components. There wasn’t legacy master sketch files or anything like that that teams or designers had to work around. They had one spot where they knew that that was the most up-to-date. If they wanted or needed to version back, they could. That was really awesome as well. And everything was up in the clouds, so we didn’t have to find a place to store this library. It was all included in DSM, so that was amazing as well. So far it’s just answered all of our requirements in terms of what we needed to scale our process.

Eli: Are there any books or blogs or other resources that are helping you now in your role at TELUS or might have helped you in the past?

Lucy: The Design System Slack channel that Jina Anne had created. Last year I attended the Clarity conference, and I know she sends out a bunch of newsletters and stuff like that, which helps me keep up to date. As well as Nathan Curtis who, when I started the role, I just started reading everything to do with design systems with him as well. 

And then, there’s all these blogs and articles that are available. I think a lot of people have a few years under their belts, and so now everybody’s starting to share their learnings and what they’ve done so far. It’s created a lot of resources that you can kind of tap into to see what other teams and other companies are doing as well.

Eli: Wonderful. Is there anybody who’s been a mentor to you and helped you get where you are today?

Lucy: I would say our design managers here. So Neal McGann’s been great. He actually first started the design system; so he was one of the first people on the team. And he’s pushed and built out a team, and pushed the idea to build a design system within our company. I think we sort of have him to thank as well.

And I think Steve Fisher started with our team as a Principal Designer here in May, and so he’s been great to push the vision of where we should be going. We’ve focused a lot of our efforts internally so far, and making sure that our teams are using it. Adoption is good. The processes we have in place are good.

Our culture here at TELUS stresses a big importance on customer-first and design has a seat at the table, and this is made possible by Shawn Mandel, our CDO. We are encouraged and given the opportunity to make sure our customers are first and that we’re doing whatever we can to make that happen. Part of that is creating this design system so that our team can focus on end-to-end experiences, as opposed to, “Where am I gonna find the latest button?” or “Where am I gonna find the latest card component?” All that stuff is sort of second nature that they

Eli: Perfect. Well, Lucy thanks so much for being on Design Better. It’s great having you here.

Lucy: Oh, it was great. Thank you so much.

designbetter conversations
designbetter conversations