Scale your speed-to-innovation with Design Systems

Spend more time being smart and less time pushing pixels.

Let’s face it, making great things is hard and making great things within a large enterprise is even harder. It happens though. Organizations like GE, IBM, AirBNB, Panera, and even Microsoft have managed to scale their ability to create on-the-fly products that can be prototyped, tested, and iterated at a pace that clips their competitors. And there’s something they all have in common…

Design Systems.

GE has Predix

Google has Material Design

IBM has Carbon

Microsoft has Fluent

Airbnb has their DLS (Design Language System)

Panera’s is on the way.

A peek into Airbnb’s Design System

Design Systems create a guiding set of icons, styles, interactions, architectures–and even motions–that help design and technology teams construct prototypes and products at a fraction the speed of one-off efforts. Quite simply, design systems considerably reduce production effort so your innovation team can spend more time being smart and less time pushing pixels.

They let non-tech companies act like tech companies

It’s easy to see the value of design systems for technology and product brands like Google and GE, but what about brands that aren’t traditionally technology-centric companies? Panera Bread recently reached over $1 billion in sales from digital platforms…and it only took them three years. In relative terms, their technology budget isn’t that big but their culture of innovation and their bias towards action makes them a restaurant business that acts like a technology company. You can do it too. Design Systems can help any organization do more with the resources they have, create connected experiences quicker, and act like the technology companies that we all admire.

Do you need your own Design System?

Let’s be real, some companies don’t need their own design system. There are already some well-supported open design systems from the big three that we can start using today. If owning your brand isn’t mission critical or if your team is small and just doesn’t have the bandwidth, then you might want to think about one of these ready-to-use design systems:

  1. Google Material–The most well-supported and universal design system.
  2. Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines–Deep and detailed, but primarily focused on app design.
  3. Microsoft Fluent–Great for emerging interfaces.
Google’s Material Design already has well supported front-end toolkits

Getting your new Design System of the ground

We work with clients all the time to either set up, consult for, or apply existing Design Systems to new products. The most common thing we see is that there’s interest and energy up-front, but follow through is much less common. Here are some helpful tips to get your new Design System in place.

Think of it as a new product

It’s easy to get wrapped up in aspirations and lofty goals around creating the next Material Design, but sometimes reality gets in the way. Sometimes finding resources to create your lofty vision is a vision in itself. So what do you do? Start small and evolve over time. Your Design System should feel like a living, breathing thing that starts small and grows with your needs.

It needs leadership support

There are twenty things to do today, ten of them move the business forward, and you can only do two. Sound familiar? In a world where urgency drives importance, it’s easy to lose sight of what we should be doing in favor of what we need to do…today. Having an evangelist at senior levels helps pave the way for your Design System to take roots (and the scalable innovation practice that comes with it).

It’s a Design & Technology System

Design Systems work best when they create a common language for designers, technologists and systems analysts. Bring them into the process. After all, we’re designers right? Bringing everyone together to create something great is what we do best.

Invest in the right process and tools

“Here’s the simple truth: You can’t innovate on products without first innovating the way you build them.” -Airbnb, Building a Visual Language

Brands like Sketch and Invision are re-invigorating the design process with tools that make it easier for everyone to work better together. But much like everything else these days, it moves fast.

Invision’s new Craft update is the self-proclaimed “single source of truth for your team’s design system” and rightfully so. The integration between Sketch and Invision has proven to be a prototyper’s dream.

It’s not just about tools either. The approach–the process–is always changing too. Seems like yesterday we were applying this new “responsive” way (or was it adaptive?) of creating websites that allowed teams to streamline desktop and mobile web experiences into one efficient code base. Our processes are still changing.

Atomic Design is the next iteration of what it means to use design systems for quickly scaling the design and development capacity for teams.

Have a question?

Hopefully we’ve given you something to think about and some tips to get you started, but if there’s something we missed, let us know. At Carter Edwards & Company, we have a team dedicated to innovating on new practices and process–both for ourselves and our clients. If you need help or just have a question, we’re here to help.

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