Devs go it alone after DTA ditches design system


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Australian developers have been forced to go it alone to keep the government design system running after it was abruptly ditched by the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) this month, despite being launched to make digital services “simpler, cheaper and more effective”.

The government design system, dubbed AuDS, was launched by the DTA in 2018, providing a framework and set of tools for designers and developers to build uniform government products and services.

The open source system aimed to “speed up and bring consistency to government websites and services”, functioning as “digital lego bricks” of sorts with which government websites and services can be built.

“These systems give us common foundations we can use to speed up design and development, be consistent, prototype and test new features, deliver good online experiences at scale and make fast improvements to the services people need,” the DTA said.

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Design systems like these have become increasingly popular in recent years and are becoming commonplace in governments and tech companies around the world.

The AuDS is used by over 65 agencies across governments around the country, and was recently utilised for the development of the Census website, service.nsw.gov.au, the COVID-19 Queensland government page and a range of DTA products.

But earlier this month the DTA announced that the AuDS would be decommissioned and taken down from 30 September, much to the surprise and confusion of the dedicated community that has formed around it.

The decision means the DTA will no longer act as moderator of the design system, and will not resolve issues, apply fixes or accept pull requests. The GitHub repositories will remain archived online, but they will not receive any updates.

“Thanks to the community-based approach of the Design System, its value now resides in the agencies that continue to use it as a basis for their own websites and services,” a spokesperson for the DTA told InnovationAus.

“The response from the community has continued to be strong following the decommissioning, and a group of the community are planning to continue working together to share updates to their own design systems. This cements the value of a community-based approach such as was used on the Design System.”

In a post on a design system community board, DTA UX engineer Ross Mullen said the decision was the result of the recent restructuring of the agency. The DTA was recently moved from Services Australia to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, with its remit adjusted to move away from service delivery.

A number of major development programs, including myGov enhancements and digital identity, have been shifted away from the DTA as a result of this.

A number of users of the AuDS, dubbed the “maintainers”, have now shifted the design system to a community-driven open source model and to a new home on GitHub to continue running it and “secure the future of the Australian government design system”.

Keeping the AuDS active will help agencies and departments already using it, and assist others with delivering efficient services more cheaply, the group said.

“Government spends a lot of unnecessary time and money building websites they don’t need to – the design system solves that. When an improvement to any of the components are made, they are available to all the websites in which they’re utilised,” the organisers of the Design System AU told InnovationAus.

“Local, state and federal governments need this design system as a multiplier to good practice, as the alternative of undergoing equivalent and extensive usability testing and evidence-based design on their own accord would be impractical, as well as a drain of public resources.”

If the AuDS wasn’t maintained or updated, several government agencies would struggle to keep services running effectively, they said.

“Many departments and teams are already utilising the Design System, meaning that they’re now stuck with an end-of-life product in their still-alive projects Essentially this means that bugs won’t be fixed now or new features added,” the organisers said.

“It has been hugely popular with goodwill, and it is the right thing to do. We believe that the only way to see the system sustained and continued with the DTA is via the open source community, driven at heart by government representatives.”

The long-term success of AuDS would help the government deliver more effective and efficient digital services, they said.

“We believe that the continued work on this Design System and its centralisation means that it will have a big impact on the quality of delivery for countless government agencies and teams,” they said.

“Now that the community is managing the Design System, we’re excited to engage with government agencies around their needs and deliver a product roadmap that will benefit everyone in Australia. Co-ownership will also give a voice to a lot of departments and agencies that previously were unable to be heard when a single agency governed the project.

“This community-driven approach will hopefully result in a more precise tool that helps real world issues rather than aspirational ones.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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