14 January 2020

Design as an Agent for Change: The Business Case for Design Systems

Anja Klüver, Prospect’s founder, was invited to give a talk at the London’s 2019 Design System Conference to explore the business case for design / design systems and how to sell it into the organisation.

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:

  • Research & InsightsDesigning for multiple devices & screen sizes
  • Digitising more areas of the business
  • Expanding scope of digital products & services
  • Growing team sizes & vendors
  • Coordinating with more stakeholders
  • Optimising processes to roll-out products faster



How to get buy in

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.


Example: A Forrester Total Economic Impact™ Study Commissioned By IBM

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.

2x Faster to market
75 % Reduced design time
33 % Reduced development time

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.

Pain points shape a business case

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:

  • Design debt – an overabundance of non-reusable and inconsistent styles and conventions, the impossible task of maintaining them. Over time, the accumulation of this debt becomes a great weight that slows growth.
  • Duplication of efforts – Duplication of design elements leads to fragmentation, and fragmentation leads to inconsistency. Repeatable and sizeable digital products & services that need to be created can lead to the duplication of efforts.
  • Product & company maturity – Some companies have a product with thousands of users, while others are just beginning to implement their product. A design system should come from the need to increase efficiency at scale.
  • Teams working in vacuums – The design team is growing.



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:

  • 50% Time saving for common patterns, journeys
  • 25% Faster prototyping
  • 50% Right first time - reducing future managed costs
  • 25% Increased product dev efficiency & efficacy
  • 2-3x Speed to market
  • Trigger for innovation
  • Increased usability = increased adoption & ROI
  • Brand equity & perception


How to measure

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.


Find out more in the 20 min talk or come and talk to us!