HEROES Spotlight: Donnie D'Amato

  • Founder & Chief Architect of Design Systems House; a consultancy dedicated to the future of design systems.
  • Moderator of the Slack, Twitter, and Mastodon design system communities.
  • Author of gridless.design; a thesis on mismatching the design grid to the web medium.
  • Instructor for User Research and Interaction Design at Parsons School of Design.
  • Currently, the engineering lead for the UXCore library at GoDaddy.
  • Previously, the first UX Engineer at Compass.

Where were you born and raised? Where do you currently reside? How has your life today been influenced by where you grew up and perpetuate from where you live now?

Born and raised in Lindenhurst, NY. Spent most of my adult life in Queens, NY. Now living in East Meadow, NY. I’m confident that my exposure to New York City has been a huge influence on my outlook; considering many different perspectives in solving problems.

Explain design systems to us. What does this mean to the average internet surfer and how does it impact the lives of everyone.

Design systems help large organizations maintain a consistent design across their products. The main resulting benefit to these teams is reducing the decision-making process. Meanwhile, the benefit for users of these experiences is consistency thereby reinforcing a trustworthy product.

How did you find your way to entrepreneurship? It would seem like you have had an extensive career and worked with many recognizable brands, so what motivated you to stand up Design Systems House?

Admittedly, I’ve been involved in design systems consulting for longer than the business has existed. Creating the business was a matter of protection. It was important to me that my personal assets were separated from my professional assets. As my work has become more popular, it was clear that setting up a legitimate business would be beneficial.

Donnie D'Amato of Design Systems House

Accessibility and useability are one of the key components of your methodology. How do you explain the importance of these standards? Why are these elements cornerstones of your practice and why is it important to the average person?

I’d argue they may not be important to the average person. The goal is to include all individuals when considering a design direction, not the average person. This introduces nuances that an average person would not necessarily possess, such as color blindness or lack of fine motor skills. This is important so that any one person does not feel excluded from an experience. For companies, this is important to their bottom line, as the more people that can successfully use their product, the more money they could be making.

You are a lifelong learner within your domain. You are constantly learning and adapting to the evolution of your craft. What is something you recently learned and have applied that made an integral difference to the way you deliver for your clients?

I just recently learned about the terms clickwrap and browsewrap based on a conversation about the existence of invalid checkboxes. I plan to write a blog post about the train of thought that this caused in the near future. For now, I’ll just mention that many folks are suspectable of the bandwagon effect, and it’s important to not only copy a pattern we have seen but understand why the pattern was used before implementing it. “It exists; therefore, I use” is not a motto to blindly follow.

Donnie D'Amato Lecturing

You appear to have a passion for educating and mentoring others. Where does that come from? What are you core passionate about?

It comes from experiencing my own challenges in learning about any particular topic and from having empathy for others beginning those journeys. I want to make the process easier for others and provide more successful outcomes. I aim for clarity in an otherwise tumultuous practice.

Your website is one of the most enjoyable web experiences. It serves as a method of “wow” but also what keeping it simple looks like, without sacrificing an incredible user experience. Where did the inspiration come from for donnie.damato.design?

It started from browsing stock photography, precisely the yellow background image that includes items that could appear on a person’s desk. I thought it would be interesting to lean into the messy desk motif. It was serendipitous that the experience turned into frames on a wall highlighting some projects later on. I do all of my explorations in code because if I can’t make it work there, it’s just not work. This also helps with focusing on content first before the design. While I’ll have a general idea of what things should look like, the content really drives the overall layout of my sites. Adding colors, typography, and spacing are some of the last things I consider.

Plug Design Systems House. What does the business specialize in and how does one learn more about what you do and who you work with?

We at Design Systems House challenge the belief that all design systems should have permission to be different. We discover ways of customizing experiences by meeting user expectations while subverting our traditional education. We work with all people tangential to design and development in the design systems practice; especially those looking to create inclusive resources meant for every single one of us.

How can people follow your work and what advice do you have for young people in pursuit of lofty goals?

I’m probably most active on Twitter and LinkedIn, but my website has a slew of other links. My advice is not to jump ahead too quickly. There are foundations to practices that would be beneficial to learn before tackling larger problems. Information is more widely available than it has ever been, so use that to your advantage responsibly and you’ll often find yourself more successful than some of your peers.

Donnie D'Amato on Stage