These days, the digital landscape moves so rapidly that a brand’s ability to launch new products quickly can make or break it.

Customer expectations, emerging technologies, new channels and touchpoints, market trends - and don’t forget global pandemics - are increasingly demanding fast turnarounds from businesses.

To be competitive, companies need to be able to iterate quickly. Design, refine, and launch - all on a very tight timeline.

While this can be extremely challenging without having the proper people, processes, and tools in place, it’s also an opportunity for innovative organizations to stand out from the crowd.

Yet how can business leaders equip their teams to successfully navigate these turbulent times?

With a Design System.

What is a Design System?

There’s a popular saying: “Design Systems bring order from chaos.” And when you need to accelerate your time to launch, the last thing you want to contend with is chaos.

Thankfully, Design Systems allow for speed, scale, and efficiency, without compromising consistency.

Numerous businesses already understand the importance of Design Systems. Nearly 70% of enterprise companies either use a Design System or are currently working on one.

A Design System functions as a single source of truth for designers and developers.

In fact, this is arguably its biggest advantage, though there are many reasons that both groups love Design Systems.

Design Systems are made up of reusable components, branding information, and other relevant content, all contained in one central place. This significantly streamlines the workload for your teams. 

Brad Frost, who coined the term ‘Design System’ articulates the concept as being comprised of five components:

  • Atoms - basic building blocks, including: shapes, colors, icons, and fonts.
  • Molecules - simple groups of UI elements that function as a unit, like Input Groups.
  • Organisms - more complex components composed of groups of molecules.
  • Templates - page-level objects that layout the underlying content structure.
  • Pages - specific instances of templates that represent a design in its final form.

Put simply, a Design System is a single point of control that organizes, documents, and manages the identity of your brand in order to deliver a great customer experience.

Developing a Design System

As mentioned before, Design Systems are created with speed, efficiency, and consistency in mind. 

So, when you’re trying to accelerate your time to launch, they’re the perfect solution. But how do you go about creating one?

One Design System, Unlimited Possibilities

Assessing the Need

While most enterprise companies could benefit from a Design System, not every one needs something quite so comprehensive. 

Some companies can get away with just investing in a redesign. If this solves your problems, then you’re probably not at a stage where a Design System makes sense.

Evaluate your needs first and determine if investing in a Design System will address existing problems, or if it’s overkill - for now. 

Creating a Clear Plan

As with any major undertaking, it’s always important to get buy-in. 

Not everyone is familiar with Design Systems, and no matter how popular they may be at the moment, there are always a few skeptics in every crowd.

Utilize change management strategy to help ensure that your teams are excited about this new tool. 

Once your stakeholders are on board, you’ll need to identify your goals. Obviously, the major goals of a Design System are to create consistent experiences for end-users while simultaneously saving time and money that is typically spent on redundant efforts. 

But it’s important to think beyond that, too. You want to create a Design System that addresses challenges specific to your industry or even your company, that meets customer and employee needs, and that is easily scalable as your business evolves. What does your brand stand for? How does a Design System allow you to deliver on that mission?

Don’t Start from Scratch

One of the most critical parts of the entire Design System process is the audit. 

You’ll need to audit a few key things. First, review your own existing content. What design elements exist? Are they consistent? (When HubSpot audited every one of their components, they discovered that they had over 100 variations in shades of gray alone.) 

What components do you not have that you need? Do existing components work for development in addition to design?

It can be tedious to audit your user experience, documenting each component, this meticulously. But throughout the process you’ll not only establish consistency and alignment, you’ll also uncover valuable insights to problems such as why conversions are low. 

The good news? You don’t have to start from scratch. You likely have a lot of usable design elements already created; they just have to be cleaned up and documented. And, even better, many major brands have made their Design Systems public. 

Do your research and determine what enterprises may be similar to yours, and if their Design Systems are accessible.

It’s an Ongoing Process

While it’s tempting to one-and-done a Design System, a Design System isn’t a one-off project. 

Rather, it’s a living document. As your needs evolve, so does the Design System. You’ll likely iterate it several times before even releasing it, and even once it’s official, you’ll need to maintain it and reassess with regularity. 

Make sure it’s accessible to all your teams, clearly documented, and something that is intentionally maintained.

Accelerating with a Design System

So, now that you have a Design System, you want to understand how best to use it to accelerate your time to launch.

Design Systems can achieve acceleration for a variety of reasons . . . 

Speed & Efficiency

With a Design System, designers are able to pull from libraries of design elements. This speeds up their work and helps them avoid blocking development. It also ensures that the handoff to development goes smoothly, and that there’s no backtracking because something doesn’t work in practicality. 

In fact, most estimates find that with a full Design System, you can save up to 70% of the team’s time during the product development process.

Collaboration & Consistency

Successful design involves significant collaboration. For example, two designers may be working on different pages that share a new feature. With a Design System, both designers can work in parallel on their pages and more easily collaborate on the new feature. 

This collaboration translates into a consistent user experience. Typically, people request designs for a given page or screen. But that screen may contain a feature also used on many other pages. Designers want to avoid accidentally changing a feature on their pages that is already widely used.

Time that’s usually wasted through lack of communication and collaboration, or belatedly realizing the major impacts of minor changes, is saved thanks to a Design System. 

And, by clearly documenting everything in one place, you also save take hours or even days typically spent comparing different guides, sorting through discrepancies, and figuring out which one offers the best and most current guidance. 

Proven Building Blocks

Do any Googling about Design Systems, and you’ll come across more than one Lego analogy.

Design Systems are like a box of Legos; you can build almost infinite designs from the same set of blocks.

Blocks that you know will fit together, look the same, and produce functional results. This is the beauty of Design Systems, and why it’s much easier to accelerate the process of designing when you have one. 

Assuming the patterns of a Design System are well tested, designers can create with confidence. No more guessing which patterns work and which don’t. They simply elect to use design patterns already proven to perform.

Wrapping It Up

Design Systems are definitely an investment.

Yet there’s a reason why everyone from classic Coca-Cola to innovative Spotify has one. They pay off, particularly in an environment where you need to be able to rapidly produce new designs. 

If you’re ready to learn more about creating a Design System for your brand, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge today.

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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