How are Design Systems Being Used to Modernize and Streamline Pharma Websites?

Mar 5, 2019 · 5 min read

Companies that own many web properties face significant challenges in maintaining the integrity of their brand, ensuring modern best practices, and managing costs across their digital touchpoints. Pharmaceutical companies, in particular, are in a unique and rather challenging position regarding the creation and maintenance of their web properties as a result of a number of factors.

The first is the sheer volume of sites that need to be created and maintained. Most products have a consumer-facing version and a physician-facing version, and some product teams also maintain a nonbranded disease state site.

Look and feel
There are different regulations and best practices related to each of those site types, but the patient site and healthcare professional site typically need to look and feel like they’re in the same family, with a design that represents the product brand appropriately to the target audience.

Evolving product life cycle
Sites need to accommodate the evolution of the product throughout its life cycle, supporting appropriate claims, patient support, clinical trial data, dosing and administration information, new indications, label changes, and other information. A product site that is newly available has very different needs than one that has multiple indications and is being actively marketed.

Websites need to be created and maintained in full compliance with stringent medical, legal, and regulatory standards, not just from a content perspective but also to ensure appropriate visibility and interaction with important safety information and black box warnings. It can be very difficult to ensure compliance across potentially hundreds of websites, especially when each product marketing team has a different agency creating the design and interaction of the sites.

Global audience
Global site implementations add another layer of complexity, with different regulatory environments, languages (for example, the need to design for right-to-left text), and cultural differences and expectations for aesthetics (for example, design that resonates in the United States doesn’t necessarily work in the Japanese market).

Measurement strategy
Marketing professionals are under pressure to show results from their customer touch points and measure the effectiveness of their product sites. With so many sites, there can be vast inconsistencies in how data is collected and interpreted across products, making it difficult for product teams to confidently use data to inform decision making and marketing strategies.

Value of developing a global design system
With these factors, it can seem an insurmountable task to manage, but there is a solution: a global design system that drives the creation, maintenance, and measurement of sites across a suite of products can ease the pain. A design system is a collection of standardized styles, components, and templates to govern a group of digital properties. Think of it as a collection of building blocks, where the smallest elements of a site are defined and combined with other elements to create the parts of a page template.

Each of these building blocks can be used in combination with the others, providing a flexible system of content and page layouts to meet the needs of different products and users.

The goal of a design system is to increase consistency and efficiency and decrease the cost of creating and maintaining a suite of web properties. For pharmaceutical companies (as well as any organization faced with management of many web properties), this approach can achieve the following:

Consistency in design
Multiple digital touch points that have an inconsistent brand and user experience can feel disjointed and often extremely jarring to users and can degrade a brand’s credibility and trustworthiness. Design systems establish consistency across and within sites, establishing a cohesive set of experiences for users. This consistency can also reduce the risk of noncompliance in a highly regulated environment, for example, by setting parameters for the display of ISI and black box warnings. A design system can also drive modern best practices and accessibility standards across sites.

Consistency in measurement
Including a measurement strategy with the design system is a powerful way to establish a consistent method of defining and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) across all sites. This helps product teams collect and interpret data to measure the success of their sites and drive decision making in marketing strategies.

While the consistency of a design system can establish the feel of sites being in the same family, there is also a level of flexibility that allows for adaptation to different brand or localization needs and to accommodate new campaigns, new indications, label changes, and changing messaging needs throughout the product life cycle. Because the design system is componentized, it is relatively straightforward for product owners, designers, and developers to move and swap content modules on page templates to flex with changing needs.

Efficiency and cost savings
Decentralized design and maintenance of websites often means that each site is created from scratch, which can result in costly and lengthy site implementations as well as difficulty in maintaining sites efficiently. With a design system, the largest effort is usually in the creation of the first site or two, with subsequent sites increasing in efficiency. The initial design system is set up with responsive grids, standard components and modules, and measurement frameworks. Sites are created using the existing components in the system that are styled based on brand guidelines for colors, tone, and feel. New elements and components are added as needed to accommodate variations required for each product and user group. Reusing grid definitions, page layouts, and standard elements drastically decreases the time and expense needed to create and modify sites.

While managing the effort, costs, compliance, and frequent updates among hundreds of web properties can seem daunting, a systematic approach to the design, measurement, and implementation of sites can significantly ease the burden.

Author: Kristen Cromer, Vice President, Experience Design
As Vice President of Experience Design and head of our health and wellness practice, Kristen is responsible for the healthy growth of our business and our teams. She sets the strategic direction of our efforts in the health and wellness sector, bringing industry expertise to our clients to make a positive impact on the lives of patients, to support providers in caring for patients, and to simplify interactions with payers.

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