🐇🌀 001 — Design Systems & Urban Planning


A hopefully frequent format to capture current explorations.

Last month at our annual team gathering, Ethan shared a wonderfully inspiring talk about some of the challenges facing our industry, and asking ourselves: what kind of work do we want to do?

A key part that stuck with me was his example of Robert Moses and web accessibility. Moses - the notorious NYC city planner - built specific bridges lower across parkways in order to restrict the use of state parks by poor and lower-middle-class families.

Robert Moses ordered engineers to build bridges extra-low, to prevent poor people in buses from using the highway.

Robert Moses ordered engineers to build bridges extra-low, to prevent poor people in buses from using the highway.

Since then, I’ve been looking more closely at the strong similarities between design systems and the role of an urban planner — managing change in complex environments; dealing with multiple scales and systems; engaging ethically with problems now and in the future; and planning as an active practice where implementation matters.

I’m also curious about the relationships between architect and urban planner. Architects “design buildings, urban planners are responsible for recommending how land will be used and what types of things are needed to meet the needs of a community.”

Architects focus on a specific client's needs, while urban planners must consider the needs of the community as a whole.

Another way of framing it, “Urban design is an effort to make an area or whole city comprehensive, functional, and aesthetic through the articulation of its parts.” As creators of design systems, it may be helpful to evolve our framework beyond architecture and better considering our influence within a complex ecosystem.

Hidden Champions

I stumbled upon another enjoyable German concept without a clear English equivalent. Mittelstand are Germanic small to medium sized businesses which put happy workers over profits. They "are characterized by a common set of values and management practices" like emotional attachment, long-term focus, lean hierarchies and strong regional ties. Yes!

They are often multi-generational, family owned, businesses who are focused on growth over decades, not quarters. Reminded me of Basecamp’s series, The Distance, and has me dreaming of what Mittelstand might look with the growing trend of remote work.

From Saul Steinberg’s  The Labyrinth , 1960.

From Saul Steinberg’s The Labyrinth, 1960.


Celebrating warmer temps in Michigan with my first drink after an alcohol-free month. (and another spring celebration this past week — Opening Day!)

We finally found a piano, which now lives in my studio. The kids enjoy banging on it. I’m looking forward to teaching them to play, as I’m slowly working my fingers towards the muscle memory of lessons from two decades ago.

Jared Fanning