The Culture of Design(ing) Systems: Key takeaways.

Jack Reinelt, President of the Americas
29 September 2020

What an impactful two-day event at the MarketsandMarkets Design Thinking Virtual Summit! This event was designed with the vision to promote industry-wide knowledge-sharing and networking within the Banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) Sector, addressing more than 340 C-suite attendees.  

The Summit focused on the idea of design transformation and building a Design Thinking culture into business organizations. 

On the morning of September 23rd, Somo participated in this exciting virtual event with an enlightening presentation about Design Systems. Our very own Eric Smallwood – UX Lead at Somo, spoke about ‘The Culture of Design(ing) Systems’, sharing insights about Design Systems and how they enable product teams at scale, operationalize Design Thinking culture within enterprise systems, and unite product vision, customer experience, and architectural feasibility. 

What’s a Design System?

What is a design system?

Design Systems are an approach to building interfaces, products, and experiences that share a common view of core components, and how those components combine and build into larger more complex objects that form pages, user experiences, interfaces, and ultimately design principles and rules created to guide the products that we build.

What are the key benefits of Design Systems?

Benefits of a design system

There are a few tangible benefits:

  • It unites the design and development process through core components that are assembled into the experiences we serve to our customers.

  • It creates the flexibility to quickly change the look, feel, and functionality at scale, allowing teams to inherit updates from a centralized repository.

  • It provides a consistent method of incorporating new research insights or changes in technology.

  • It leads to increased efficiency and removes the need to rebuild from scratch

  • It allows for immense cost and time savings 

  • It leads to a higher degree of collaboration, and 

  • It creates a deeper and more consistent understanding of the product for designers and developers, delivering a single source of truth.

Quantifying the value of Design Systems

Slide 7 - Quantifying the value of Design System

In order to clarify ROI, benefits of implementation must be clearly tied to success metrics that matter:

Consistency: Increasing the adoption rate by product teams will bring product consistency within and potentially across markets 

Efficiency: Time/Cost savings per component because teams simply won't have to rebuild from scratch. 

Collaboration: As adoption rises, we increase the number of contributing teams, which helps scale the pace of innovation and development of the Design System.

To convey the impact, tie business value to a direct cost reduction. In the chart below, we see a real-life example of significant initial impacts upwards of a 25% reduction in the amount of time to design components, which in turn is saving the company $120K monthly and over $1.4MM a year.

Slide 8 - Quantifying the value of Design Systems

The above example reflects the efforts of designers alone. Similar benefits would be found across other functional areas, making the significant cost savings of investing in Design Systems clear.

Enabling Perspectives of Design Systems

Business value is the impetus for considering whether your organization should endeavor to create a Design System, however, articulated business value alone will not translate into methods of collaboration needed to achieve our goals. How can we ensure our approach is holistic?

Design systems are unique in that they embody both Design Thinking and Systems Thinking.

Design Systems embody “Design Thinking”

Design Thinking is defined as a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test’.

Design Thinking builds understanding through context and empathy for people attempting to achieve a goal. While usually applied to customers, this approach can also be applied to designers and developers within your organization.

Slide 16 - User Centered Design Process

Somo’s user-centered design process ensures we're understanding the goals of customers. Our approach is highly iterative and comprises a series of steps that help us understand, ideate, and validate our solutions for any product. If we design products without regard for feasibility, designers and developers will not be able to achieve their goals. And similarly:

“If we build products without the voice of the customer, customers will not be able to achieve their goals”

Working toward clarity through Design Thinking:

  • Promote strategic collaboration between functional areas to build relationships between disciplines

  • Create seamless workflows that go beyond “handoff”

  • Show developers see the impact their work will have on users by socializing research and testing outcomes

  • Include design perspectives in the development processes

  • Tailor methods of collaboration to the unique production context

Building and managing Design Systems can embody Design Thinking to the degree in which they accommodate both the goals of the customer and of those responsible for its implementation. Both perspectives are key when building a single source of truth that guides the experiences of developers and designers alike toward their goals.

Design Systems embody “Systems Thinking”

A known definition is: Systems Thinking is an approach to understand, design, and systemize the flow of value from various aspects of the organization across the value chain.

Systems Thinking gains understanding by mapping interconnected value throughout an ecosystem. If Design Thinking focuses organizations on understanding human factors, Systems Thinking focuses on understanding operational dependencies. We need to let business context inform the WAY we solve the problems our users face. Designers and developers should be asking themselves:

  • What business rules apply here?

  • How are legacy systems slowing innovation?

  • How do we plan releases to transition us to the next generation of the app, platform, or service?

  • How can we minimize the impact to customer experience through the transition?

  • Is there consistency in business value through implementing a design system?

Because ultimately:

“If we build products that do not support business objectives stakeholders will not achieve their goals”

Working toward clarity through Systems Thinking:

  • Promote strategic collaboration between functional areas to build relationships between disciplines

  • Giving Business Analysts and Product Managers tools that bring them into each other’s processes

  • Let the architectural roadmap inform design objectives and deviate from Design System patterns only when necessary

  • Engage the wider community of product teams when suggesting alterations to the Design System

  • Communicate the process and value of contributing through transparent governance model

  • Tailor methods of collaboration to the unique context based on your business type and size

Why does this all matter?

In understanding what perspectives fuel the holistic production of design systems, we inevitably must ask ourselves how do we foster those perspectives in our organizations? This matters because I personally believe that:

“DESIGN systems or designing SYSTEMS of collaboration reflect the organizational culture itself.”

Design(ing) Systems reflect organizational culture 

It is said that: Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business.

The effective process relies on sharing underlying values. This is at the heart of building effective systems, products, teams, and organizations.

  • Design Thinking fosters human-centered perspectives

  • Systems Thinking helps us understanding how those perspectives build ecosystems of value

Design Systems can be an example of how both perspectives can be unified to deliver impactful outcomes. Successfully embodied Design or Systems Thinking share these key themes:

Slide 31 - Organizational Culture Key Themes

Embracing these themes enable successful design systems, and many other organizational objectives. After all, we build the systems of collaboration that design our systems! The culture of an organization should:

  • View objectives through both a Systems and a Design Thinking lens.

  • Understand that Design Systems are an outcome, not the method needed to achieve business value.

  • Not to expect effective outcomes unless we promote shared understandings that make teams feel connected, understood, and valued.

“If we start by fostering these cultural themes, organizations can spark new ways of “thinking” yet to be imagined.”

Eric’s insightful presentation helped the audience understand that when implemented correctly, leveraging Design Systems will not only result in significant cost savings, flexibility and consistency in products and services, but offer an example of holistic collaboration between teams, fostering human-centered perspectives for customers and organizations alike.

If you’re interested in learning more about the topics discussed above, to find out about our upcoming events, or discuss how we can help you accelerate your product delivery, contact us here.

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Somo is organizing a series of virtual webinars covering the foundational elements of a Design System. Join us on October 14th at 10am (EDT) | 3pm (BST) for the first one from this exciting three-part series. We'll talk about what a design system is, its key benefits, and what's the business value. Sign up here.