Whether your company is large or small, designing and building multiple digital products is always challenging.
Bringing together designers and product teams is no easy task, as organizations grapple with the challenge of providing a cohesive and consistent user experience. This challenge becomes even more pronounced when scaling operations.
At the enterprise level, ensuring consistency remains a major UX hurdle. To address this, many organizations adopt an Agile or hybrid approach and leverage design systems to tackle inconsistency and inefficiency.
Design systems streamline design work, especially as the demand for user interface screens continues to grow. Prominent technology companies rely on design systems, and a significant 65% of companies utilize them, as revealed by a 2020 Forrester survey.
So what is a design system?
Simply put, a design system is a company’s bible for designing and building digital products. More than just a style guide, it contains the principles and guidelines for when and how design elements should be used, plus the reusable representation in code for each element.
A single source of truth for everyone in the company, a design system gives designers and developers a common language that underpins their communication. This allows teams to improve consistency across all products and platforms, and create a more valuable and cohesive experience for users.
Streamlining the design and development process this way also results in significant efficiency gains and increased productivity for teams.
Why introduce a design system?
Having multiple design and development teams work on various digital products, or even different parts of the same product, invariably leads to duplication of work, employee frustration, and an inconsistent digital experiences for the users.
While any organization can face these challenges, the consequences – and the associated costs – are amplified in large corporate environments due to the sheer scale.
At the enterprise level, it is normal to see departments focusing on different goals with competing priorities, and effective communication becoming increasingly difficult as the organization grows. Consistency, which is crucial for maintaining the image of big brands, suffers as a result. Let’s take a look at some popular problems in enterprises, and how an enterprise design system addresses them.
When a new developer joins a large corporate organization and is asked to build a landing page, in the absence of a design system, they would have no choice but to turn to senior colleagues for help.
The more experienced developers may be able to provide an example of a previously built landing page that can be used as a template, and they may be able to offer advice on best practices. Not only is this time consuming and inefficient, but when this scenario is repeated multiple times across the organization, inconsistency is bound to creep in.
On the other hand, a design system would provide the designer with a set of established rules and principles, as well as pre-built design components.
Using the Atomic Design methodology, parts like buttons, switches, and checkboxes are treated as molecules, and these can be combined into bigger necessary components known as organisms.
For example, a form can be created by combining name, phone, and email input fields with a button labeled ‘send’. This form could be included on the landing page as a call-to-action part. A good design system contains many of these building blocks, which can then be used to form templates.
In this scenario, the new developer would be able to create the requested landing page, on their own, in only a few hours.
Not only are such reusable components helpful to new employees but also the business as a whole. With developers now using the design system, the amount of duplicated work is greatly reduced. Plus, with more efficient development freeing up time, employees can focus on what really adds value, e.g. content and marketing.
As a single source of truth, a design system provides everyone involved in the process with established principles and ensures consistency.
As everything is consistently named, there can be no doubt that a component under discussion is the same for everyone, which helps avoid confusion and error. Similarly, debates over the anatomy of designs or changes made by creatives are eliminated. If the design system states that a button has a 4px corner radius, this is what must be used.
For large enterprises operating on a global scale, the impact is huge.
For example, a company may wish to tailor its website to each country’s customer base, with differences in the offer based on cultural and behavioral differences. It may be the case that each country’s website is handled by a different digital agency.
Such a complex situation is easily handled by a design system. With access to the usage guidelines and principles, plus all necessary templates, each agency is able to focus purely on creating the right content and information architecture and working closely with the local teams. Enterprise design system enables consistency in design, improving brand identity and development process immeasurably; and control is maintained on a global scale.
Creating a design system for enterprise-level organizations
While it may seem like a panacea for all problems, building a successful enterprise design system is not an easy task. You will need a dedicated team of designers and developers working continuously to meticulously craft the design system.
Past designs should be taken into account, which may reveal a surprising number of similar components in use with only small differences. Designers should adopt an Atomic Design approach and consider the Occam’s Razor principle to reduce all unnecessary elements to a minimum.
It is important to be aware that a design system is a living, breathing ecosystem, and that the task of building one is never complete. The enterprise design systems should be constantly updated, allowing it to evolve with the company.
The creators of some of the biggest and most successful design systems in the world have shared them with the community to help shape a better digital world.
Take some time to get acquainted with the most popular ones and incorporate best practices into your own design system:
- Material Design by Google, used also by many developers. You can find its characteristic patterns almost everywhere, e.g. shadows, CTA, interactions, floating action buttons, and much more.
- Polaris by Shopify
- Carbon by IBM
- Atlassian Design System by Atlassian (Jira, Confluence, Trello)
- Fluent Design System by Microsoft
- Polaris by Shopify.
Finally, consider whether you have the necessary experience and capacity to successfully build an enterprise design system in-house. If not, you may find it invaluable to bring in the expertise of an agency to augment your capabilities and design process.
Create an enterprise design system
Many companies face challenges associated with building innovative solutions, however, at the enterprise level, problems and their consequences increase exponentially. Corporations are tackling a lack of consistency in user experience and user interface, and inefficiency in the design process by turning to design systems.
The advantages are numerous and impressive.
Enterprise design systems enable improved consistency as well as allow for greater control over branding on a global scale, and greater efficiency in design and development workflows boost design team satisfaction. In addition, companies are able to spend more time focusing on the customer and deliver a higher quality product as a result.