The Design System strategists’ and designers’ challenge however goes well beyond crafting and developing a best in class design system - the first hurdle is too often having to sell in the business case for change to get the investment. The second challenge is to ensure companies are empowered to embed and adopt this cultural change.
A certainty is that the majority of today’s global businesses’ services and products, if not all, have to be digitally accessible. This requirement for digital services along with mobile first, Internet of Things and smart devices will drive change and influences how a business performs and conducts business with its customers digitally. A design system integrates design into an organisation to stop reinvention and to promote innovation, maximise creativity and efficiency and create world class digital customer experiences that generate measurable value.
And this will drive the momentum and need for Design Systems as companies are:
A successful design system delivers cohesive, scaleable features in a way that is efficient for both design and development. It is a comprehensive effort built on investment in infrastructure, process, governance, and people — and it is the essential ingredient to remain competitive in a hyper-evolving digital market. In other words: “A design system unites product teams around a common visual language. It reduces design debt, accelerates the design process, and builds bridges between teams working in concert to bring products to life.“ Design Systems handbook by Invision.
As a mission statements these make sense. However, in most cases, only the converted, i.e. project sponsors, designers and coders, will buy into this. But investment will likely not get mobilised with a clear bottom line impact and the promise that it won’t gather dust after 6 months.
IBM commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study and examine the potential return on investment (ROI) enterprises may realise by engaging IBM’s Design Thinking practice. The Design Thinking Practice accelerating projects leading to cost savings of $20.6 million reductions in risk and increased portfolio profitability of $18.6 million.
The model demonstrates cost savings of $196K per minor project and $872K per major project. Cut design defects in half. Projects were more successful in meeting user needs, thereby reducing design defects and subsequent rework to save $77K per minor project and $153K per major project.
Design systems are one kind of tool that people look to in order to solve problems that are fundamentally about failures in collaboration and alignment. Often, when people talk about design systems, they’re really talking about style guides because that’s the most tangible part of the work. The style guide is like the tip of an iceberg.
The most important and overlooked force behind a style guide is the internal workings and culture. In fact, a style guide is just a map of how a group of people approaches their work. It documents and operationalises the internal process and culture that already exist. If you’re not careful, it can even reinforce bad habits and dysfunctional, siloed ways of working.
Pain points shape the business case for a design system:
ROI drivers are the internal process plus how quickly products and services can be brought to market. For mid sized projects the time to market averages 12 months, with a Design System this can be reduced to 3-6 months.
Some numbers which can be aimed for:
ROIs can be measured for quantitative and qualitative results. Qualitative results relevant for a business include time & resource costs, rework & repetition required, technology & design debt, time required to go to market for new products, scalability of solutions and adoption & loyalty. Intangible factors are weighted in brand equity, level of innovation, brand perception, team happiness and client NPS score.
To design a purposeful system that supports everyone’s needs, it is crucial to understand the potential psychological and cultural barriers to adoption and long term use. It is also important to define a governance process to empower and enable the best use of the system.