Insight | 17 January 2023

Proving the value of design systems to your c-suite

James Bloor 800

James Bloor

CEO and co-founder

Tags: Experience Design | Software Engineering

Design systems article hero

All organisations have one thing in common - the need to engage with users in meaningful ways. This means meeting the needs of customers and clients on the devices they use, day in and day out.

Creating digital products, therefore, is a vital part of any business, regardless of industry. But doing so in a consistent and scalable way can be a challenge for many.

This is where design systems come in.

A design system is a complete set of standards that encompasses a company's branding and messaging strategy. It has reusable and dedicated components, rules and guidelines for designers and programmers alike.

Design systems save time and effort during the creation and deployment process. They are inherently user-centric so inevitably improve user experiences and, by natural extension, brand reputation. But there's no escaping that design systems are expensive to create, implement, and maintain. How, then, can you engage your c-suite or executive management team? How do you get their buy-in to add the cost of a design system into your organisation's budget?

Benefits of design systems

Executives need to truly understand the benefits of what they're paying for. Creating a cost-versus-benefit case for a design system is essential. It's much easier when you fully understand what a design system will bring to your organisation.

Consistency and cohesiveness

Every product a company creates should be recognisable as part of that brand. This includes physical products and digital apps, platforms, and portals. A design system incorporates strict guidelines. These ensure every new element made using the system has a similar UI (user interface), look, and feel. Users get a consistent experience, and your brand becomes cohesive and recognisable.

Dropbox is a fantastic example of brand consistency within digital products. Every engagement point, from emails to apps, includes their ‘open box’ logo. Every communication, from emails to error messages, uses light-hearted language and avoids jargon. Designer Pedro del Corro states,

"the public sees the company [Dropbox] as one undivided entity."

Users expect to have a simple and familiar experience. That applies whether they're using a desktop PC, a MacBook, an Android phone, or an iPad. Design systems aid in the creation of multi-platform, seamless, cohesive experiences.

Efficiency

Effective design systems eliminate duplication of work, maximising the efficiency of digital projects. The principles within the design system are infinitely reusable. To quote a much-used adage, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Your design system will be just as effective for the next project, the one after, and so on.

It also stops the ‘everyone’s a designer’ mindset where designs are overruled by a senior stakeholder because, “I don’t like that colour there”. This is common in organisations and can slow down a project where there are multiple key decision makers in the sign-off process. Going back and forwards with design amends is costly for both the client and the digital product studio. Having a design system in place allows the product to be designed and developed unhindered.

Collaboration

Design systems break down data and communication silos. In fact, they actively encourage collaboration between teams. Effective design systems incorporate business goals, visions, and brand messaging plus programming methodologies. So, the more input you gain from your various departments, the more effective the system will be.

Onboarding new designers, engineers and product managers is easier when a design system is in place. Serving as a common language, a design system allows new team members to quickly grasp all the possible components and design tokens for the brand, meaning they’ll be up to speed in no time.

Maintainability

When an experienced team creates your design system, it will have inherent maintainability. This, in part, means ensuring that updates and upgrades to the system occur with ease. You can then create each new digital project in line with the latest technological advances. You can also easily follow emerging trends in UX and UI design.

Increased ROI

What's the biggest selling point of design systems when engaging your c-suite? It's got to be the potential for increased ROI. Better digital experiences mean more satisfied users. That can't help but lead to improved outcomes for your organisation.

There are so many examples of successful major businesses that use design systems. Uber, Microsoft, and Shopify are just three that you could cite. It’s not just major tech giants that benefit from design systems. We partnered with the team behind The Gruffalo to design new digital interaction points in not just a new website, but an entire immersive world. Aimed at young yet digitally native readers, the user-centric design delivered an exceptional user experience resulting in the site’s average monthly visitors increasing to over 35,000.

Challenges of design systems

Of course, most executives will have pushback when discussing design systems. Preparing to address those is important. Dismissing the concerns of major stakeholders is never a good idea. That's especially true when you're trying to get a financial commitment.

Initial cost

Design systems are costly and potentially time-consuming. Creating a design system 'in-house' can often be the most expensive method. That's why many organisations partner with external digital experts to create and maintain design systems.

Complexity

These types of systems are, by their nature, increasingly complex. They are more than just a set of rules and components. Design systems are part of your overall brand guidelines that cover offline branding and tone of voice. They're a map of every digital product you've created and can even be a set of pathways leading to subsequent projects.

Design systems require constant monitoring and maintenance. This ensures they're fit for purpose and in line with current company values and guidelines. Demonstrate how your team or partner will manage this complexity.

Inflexibility and stagnation

There's often a worry that a design system is too 'strict' and inflexible. Could this lead to stagnation? Or worse, the inability to adapt to changes in the market or consumer base? In short, the opposite should be true. An effective design system should have the ability to grow and scale with the business. It will adapt seemingly effortlessly as customer engagement methods transform.

Resistance to change

If it isn't broken, why fix it? This may be a genuine pushback from executives. They may be happy with how things are. Why should they spend large amounts of money on something different? To address this, you must demonstrate the potential and measurable benefits of the design system. How will it help the organisation save money? How will it help the organisation make more money?

'Selling' design systems to your C-suite

This last point is the most important. With this, you can start building your case for investing in a design system. Pick out points that relate directly to the KPIs of your business. Present them in a way that shows where the company can realise savings or create profits.

Proving value

How will a design system directly bring value to your organisation? This is the question executives will be asking — especially the CFO. Your business case should demonstrate how design systems can:

  • Drive more revenue by improving the digital product creation process
  • Increase the speed of getting your product to market
  • Increase efficiency by reducing time spent in onboarding and encouraging cross-departmental collaboration
  • Improve product optimisation and upgrades and react faster to customer feedback
  • Make repetitive, mundane tasks simpler and focus on innovation and adding value

Mitigating risks and drawbacks

Show how you will mitigate the potential risks of investing in a design system. Discuss what research your design system creation team will do, such as data gathering and user base research. This can help with the initial formation of the system and its ongoing maintenance. Careful research will help you prove a design system's value throughout its life.

Maximising impact

Show how you can monitor the success of your design system. Make sure this is in line with existing business performance indicators. Being able to clearly measure the impact of a design system means you can continuously prove its value. Plus, you can tweak it in order to maximise its impact moving forward. Include factors such as reducing the cost of onboarding talent. Design systems do this by making your internal processes much more efficient and accessible.

Competitor analysis

Are your competitors racing ahead? Find out if they use a design system which is helping them deliver an exceptional customer experience. This may be one of the reasons that’s giving them the competitive edge, resulting in their capturing more market share.

How Distinction can help

At Distinction, we believe the needs of the user should drive your digital product design. We help numerous high-growth organisations create and implement design systems aimed at creating better digital experiences for users. More meaningful customer engagements ultimately lead to more conversions and an increase in revenue that contributes to sustainable business growth. If your users don't enjoy using your product, they'll find something else. And that alternative is usually from one of your key competitors.

We can help your organisation with every step of design system creation. Our team supports implementing a system that works for you and your users. We'll also fully maintain the design system, allowing it to scale effortlessly as you grow. And if you decide to bring the design system management inhouse, we can help onboard your new internal team to seamlessly take the reins.

In summary

Design systems are an invaluable tool for any organisation creating digital products as they help your business achieve measurable, positive outcomes. Engaging your c-suite with the benefits and value of a design system could be easier than you realise. By following the above recommendations you’ll ensure all bases are covered to make your business case.

Want to discuss your design system?

If you want to explore creating, implementing and maintaining a design system for your organisation then speak to our experience team today.