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Why your business should invest in a design system

26th February 2019

Design systems help your business create ubiquitous customer experiences across all touch points.

With the rise of digital, your brand, business, product or range of services are on show all of the time, everywhere. These touch-points transcend borders and extend to all mediums.

Investing in a design system means you avoid misalignment between projects and your overarching experience strategy. Your teams will focus on 20% of things that are unique to each product they are designing for by having the 80% of the common elements tested, validated and ready to be deployed.

Our definition of a design system:
A design system is a product of design that is centrally managed with rules and clear standards that articulate what is permissible when building and delivering any application, product, service, advert or system for your brand. They’re living organisms that serve as the source of truth, allowing you to manage, design and deliver at scale. A design system is not actualised until it has been applied to a live environment.

Creating a static version of guidelines and putting them on a beautiful website is not a design system, however having a consumer-friendly destination to document the system is useful. The real work is done in the dynamic application of a design system into a live environment. They should be viewed as complex products in their own right.

What design systems can offer

The customer service executive is being replaced by the always-on sales representative – the website, or any other interface. Whether you’re a 500-year-old financial institution or an automotive brand, design systems effectively deliver your business to its users. 

What’s often lacking is the delivery of a cohesive experience. Guidelines for brands in print either aren’t applicable to digital, haven’t been updated to reflect it, don’t consider usability, or accessibility, or simply go out of the window when it comes to defining digital experiences. 

Often, departments and 3rd party agencies pick and choose from traditional guidelines. Making governance and cohesive delivery impossible. This creates experiences which damage your users’ trust in your brand – impacting their browsing behaviour. As a result, the successful journeys your users have will decline impacting your bottom line.

Take a look around

Branded touch-points stick out like sore thumbs – the advertising billboard for the cinema, or the banking app and the UI you use when you have that experience are a hopeless mismatch. Look at your digital real estate, carefully, does your range of products have 20+ different button styles lacking rhyme or reason? 

We’ve worked with countless clients where the story is the same. Different products or services, within the same website have entirely different interaction patterns, or interpretations of a visual style creating disjointed and ultimately confusing experiences for their users. This drives users away from services whereas they should be spending more if they have committed to using that service once.

This problem is accentuated when people who are unfamiliar with your app, website or range of products try to use them. Particularly, if they’re exploring your range freely. Existing users may be familiar with the nuances of each of your platforms, but new users will not be.

With this, expectations of cohesion are soon crushed, clarity and simplicity for the user lost -frustrations soon mount. It’s simply easier for your users to go elsewhere if you are failing to deliver the right experience.

Why a design system isn’t a pattern library 

Product and service teams think they can stop at a ‘pattern library’ which works for them, and only them. In fact, the story is much larger.

Fundamentally, humans follow patterns, simply put design systems are products that deliver patterns to any number of websites, applications and beyond whilst offering familiarity and comfort to digital experiences.

However, limiting them to ‘patterns’ is wrongheaded – they also provide the judicial authority behind the patterns as well as the delivery of them. They’re a constellation of interwoven elements – without one the whole system fails.

The seat of power

The most adaptive businesses are looking to design systems to create ubiquitous and seamless user experience. The success GDS have achieved is testament to what can be accomplished with the knowledge you need to change combined with the desire and sheer bloody mindedness you must have to achieve it.

Screen Shot 2019 02 13 at 14.24.42
GDS's Design System landing page

Design systems are products that include, brand guidelines, pattern libraries, content strategy and iconography which are used to create live environments – they create the framework that governs, defines and delivers experiences across touchpoints. Moreover, they’re applicable to a range of products and services – so each can be consistent but not uniform.

Design systems unify assets and deliver the best possible experiences to your users. They achieve this by articulating rules which enable teams to design and technically deliver experiences. This means your business can express its brand in a consistent and familiar way at all times, everywhere. 

How design systems deliver ROI

Design systems require a upfront investment but the returns over time are unprecedented. In the long run, your team can work faster and more efficiently on delivering scalable design projects without the need for high additional investment. 

That means, when your product or service may have taken a year to bring to market and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, having invested in a design system means that this cost is reduced significantly overtime. They also help you to launch your product or service with greater speed and consistency.

They allow for experiences to be extended to meet the needs and requirements of your teams and their users with ease. Offering coherence and understanding and creating mutual value along the way.

The familiarity and adoration people will build for your consistent use of interaction patterns, colours, templates and tone of voice will improve your balance sheet and offset your upfront  investment. 

But, investments will be wasted without proper control and governance. Organisations need to think carefully about how they invest, deliver and govern design systems. We advocate for you to establish a team who centrally govern the system.

Four benefits of investing in a design system

There are four key benefits of adopting a design system: 

1. Reduced costs

Cost reduction happens by having centralised documentation as inefficiencies are reduced to a minimum across design, development and delivery. The reuse of existing components across projects means fewer wasted resources and increased cost savings.

2. Accelerated time to market

Time to market is shortened because teams have access to reusable and tested components meaning they can execute and deliver each phase faster. In this way teams are more focused, and time is reduced between the Proof of Concept, Prototype and launch.

3. Improved quality

Quality improves since when components are defined it is easier to deliver a consistent look and feel across products and platforms. Each team can focus on the specific user needs of the product they are working on without having to spend time recreating basic elements.

4. Greater collaboration 

Collaboration improves as teams are using a shared knowledge base that closes the gap between designers, developers and product managers. It becomes a reference point and creates a common language that helps teams to grow together and focus on users, not pixels. 

The bottom line: Design systems help to create scalable consistency at speed.


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