Origami design principles at the Financial Times

Sep 1, 2015 · 4 min read

Origami helps the Financial Times build digital products better and faster. Most teams at the Financial Times use it in one way or another, and many of the FT developers and designers are active contributors to the project.

In a gist, Origami is:

Rob Shilston, director of engineering at the FT, asked me how I’d sum up why Origami exists and what is its purpose. I thought I’d share my reply.

1. Consistency is the key to a frictionless experience and building trust in the FT brand

Origami is a central forum for discussing Financial Times development practices, its design needs and the design language across all teams.

Internal teams and third parties spread across the world can access all of this information and take part in the discussion when building digital products that carry the FT brand.

Global, constructive communication puts everyone on the same page, helping the business deliver a more consistent experience to the customers. As a result of this, the FT can build trust in its brand more effectively, and this trust helps retain and grow its audience.

Origami’s homepage on http://origami.ft.com

2. We can’t afford to re-build the same thing over and over

Origami provides tools and guidelines that allow teams to focus on the more important parts of the experience instead of re-inventing the wheel again and again.

Accessibility, performance and usability best practices are built into Origami, which saves teams a huge amount of time. And because all of the code is open sourced on GitHub, people can report bugs or contribute in ways that will save time to the company as a whole, improving the experience of all of FT users at the same time.

3. Make it easy, and then make it easier

Each step that gets in the way of the most novice Origami users is a missed opportunity.

What seems easy to use for an expert developer can often be made even even easier to use, with the aim of an always wider adoption.

There are a few ways to achieve this: refactoring complex code, clarifying documentation, simplifying APIs, adding tests, building services instead of asking the users to install and learn tools, coding demos/examples…

4. Web standards are empowering, not limiting

Standards are frustrating in many ways, and some tools and frameworks do make developers’s lives easier (for example, Origami uses Sass, Webpack and Babel).

But… Origami components are meant to be portable anywhere, allowing teams to use them in whatever technical stack they’d like.

Also, standards are very well documented, don’t require us to hire expensive “framework X or Y” experts, and make the whole ecosystem easier to maintain over time.

A cute bird in Origami (sort of). Unfortunately this item isn’t available on Etsy anymore.

5. Sharing is caring

Origami encourages a sharing mindset, exactly like any open-source project.

There are many ways to get help from the Origami core team (support meetings, email, Slack channel, GitHub issues), and we also work hard to make it easy to use and contribute to the tools and modules.

In return, the Origami core team expects people to contribute back (opening issues on GitHub, giving feedback, improving tools and modules).

This collaboration is key to Origami’s success; that’s why the Origami core team organises workshops to explain what Origami is all about and spread this sharing culture. Anyone is welcome to join these workshops, and all developers/designers that build user interfaces should attend in their first weeks at the FT.

[email ends here]

What’s next for Origami?

Although the Financial Times is not a very big company, it still struggles to control its brand at scale:

  • Something as simple as changing the company’s logo on most of its websites would cost hundreds of man hours. Let alone changing the tint of its pink background.
  • New websites are built with completely new design patterns, and very little consideration for brand consistency (e.g. a header that even the head of design had never seen before).
  • Teams build amazing things but don’t have a forum to share them on. As a result two people might be building the exact same thing in two different ways.

If the FT invests in Origami, I believe it has the potential to get rid of these issues effectively.

If you’re an FT reader, you can already see an evolution in its digital brand. This is just the beginning of its transformation, and I don’t think that the Financial Times is as well prepared for the challenge as it could be.

In the future, I hope to see both digital and design sides of the company rally around the principles I’ve mentioned in my email to Robert.

Origami offers a set of development tools, design resources and support services that are a unique opportunity for the FT to build trust in its brand at scale. FT readers are clever, educated individuals who demand the very best this world has to offer. They will notice.

Read more on how some teams at the FT think about internal services such as Origami: Teams as a Service by Matt Chadburn, technical lead at the FT.

The FT is hiring a design/developer advocate, apply on the jobs page.

Credits: picture from Carollina_Li and paper bird from Cotton Bird Designs.
Thanks to Simon Williams and
Jake Champion for proof-reading this article.

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