Consistency is an issue

When something you’ve worked in mentioned in the same breathe as this movie… That’s not a good thing.

“It’s like the site is 50 shades of grey” came another comment from a Digital Lead in the marketing department. The conversation had started out with a review of a new component but quickly lead down the road of commenting on the overall site. In under a year, one website had been worked on by 4 different designers and even more developers. Despite best efforts, consistency had been lost.

This was proving to become a problem for my team as we continued to work on the project after project in rapid succession. Despite the fact that we want to ensure that everything we designed was perfect, we’d become too singular focused. All of our time and effort went into creating the component or page at request with little regard for reviewing past work.

Until now, we were used to hearing compliments not criticisms on our UI work. Unfortunately for my team, we had reached the tipping point. Once the first comment was made, the damn broke. “Why is the footer lighter than the header?”, “Why is everything so big compared to our other sites?”, “The Carousel on WorkHealthLife worked fine, why can’t we just use that?” and “Are there not consistent patterns we can use? All of our sites look so different”.

Boom. A problem that I had been wary of and hoping to fix under the radar had just been identified by stakeholders and peers. A spotlight was placed on our inability to maintain consistency.

I knew that if something didn’t change soon, this day would come. I just wasn’t expecting that day so early.

From a short-term perspective, we adjusted quickly combing through the site and removing the multiple variations of grey and changing the size of other elements. The site still looks unique, something we didn’t want to lose, but with some adjustments, our stakeholders were much happier. We also managed to get support for a design refresh which makes the long-term perspective much clearer.

So what is the plan? As I said before, I had hoped to fix this issues under the radar. I plan on implementing a design system for both mobile and desktop solutions.

Since I started at Morneau Shepell, I’ve worked with 7 different designers, all whom, have their own unique sense of style. That uniqueness has translated into a suite of products and apps that lack any consistency across the board. We were quick to follow trends or embrace our design preferences over brand guidelines. We’ve also been ready to implement feedback without asking the questions on if the comments fit within our current vision or direction. We’ve been too reactionary.

These are all current Morneau Shepell apps. Can you tell that they were designed by different people?

Our Design System will provide the foundation for all projects moving forward and slowly become integrated into the solutions we already have. Salesforce is the shining example of what a design system should look like when done correctly. The Lightning Design System provides clear direction for all designs both within Salesforce and 3rd Party Vendors on how components should look and function.

The Lightning Design System outlines how to handle accessibility concerns, provides the code needed to ensure correct usability and provides the interface elements in HTML and CSS or Sketch Templates. Their System leverages design tokens to ensure consistency, utilities to make it easy to apply patterns and have even defined their own icons that designers can use.

With my new role as the Lead UI/UX within our teams at Morneau Shepell, my goal is to implement a similar system. As we scale up and grow our team, I want to ensure that everyone knows what the expectations are. I want Users to come to our products and know, right away, that they’re working with Morneau Shepell. By implementing a Design System, we’ll be able to address concerns of consistency, accessibility, and long-term direction.

We’ll be in a position to determine whether or not requests fit within our system and if they don’t, we can evaluate them properly. Instead of just saying yes, our system will allow us to work with our business units more as partners. The UI/UX Team will be able to provide pre-existing solutions, determine if something new is required or come to the conclusion that maybe there’s a better way.

I don’t expect this to be an easy task, in fact, I anticipate this to be very difficult. At Salesforce, the Lightning Design System was a large team dedicated to ensuring that the best patterns and solutions were created, tested and deployed. My team doesn’t have the same kind of resources, but we also understand that this needs to be an active process that can’t be forgotten about.

Our System will help determine the direction of our products moving forward, and I expect it to help provide a competitive advantage over our competition in the future. When we can create high-quality products, quickly and consistently, we put ourselves in a position to succeed.

Right now Morneau Shepell lacks a digital design identify but we plan on changing that and eventually becoming a design leader in our industry. The first step? Implementing a Design System that ensures we no longer get compared to Fifty Shades of Grey.

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