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5 Important Steps to Ensure Your Design System is Successfully Adopted Across Your Organization

5 Important Steps to Ensure Your Design System is Successfully Adopted Across Your Organization

  • Product Design /
  • Product Management /
  • Product Team Culture /

When it comes to creating a design system that will be utilized across an organization, there are multiple factors to consider. Some of these factors may seem like common sense measures. However, implementing a design system can be challenging for some organizations depending on how internal teams intersect and interact with one another. Design systems are rapidly becoming the de facto way for businesses to maintain, update, and roll out UX and UI design across their suites of digital products. In this article, we’ll review five important steps that must not be overlooked during this critical time of planning.

1) Define Your Design Strategy

Fundamentally, without a commonly shared perspective of how design affects your business and vice versa, your plans for implementing a design system are almost certain to fail. Formulating a design strategy at the onset of a project is imperative to successfully achieve your objectives. Strategy establishes metrics and criteria to measure the progress of different milestones and phases. It enables fine-tuning when it is necessary; realigning your team.

A well-constructed design strategy will account for:

  • Understanding how your business affects design
  • Understanding how your customer affects design
  • Establishing design rules of engagement
  • Defining your design system approach
  • Creating the right design team

To punctuate the gravity of defining your design strategy, consider the following relevant anecdote:

Jim is a product manager working with design teams composed of both internal staff and external contractors across the country and globe. His goal is to keep digital product progress on track despite working with a variety of stakeholders across the organization. His biggest frustration is the internal politics. Many departments act like sovereign nations that are either at odds or not talking with one another.

Does this sound familiar? This is not as uncommon as you may believe. Having a well defined design strategy can help create a common understanding and basis for shared language around design and associated needs and can help facilitate better communication across teams.

2) Educate Your Organization

Following the definition of your design strategy comes an oft-overlooked step for its success – how it is rolled out, and how it becomes integrated within organizations. It’s one thing to create a design system that becomes the source of truth for all things design, but it is equally essential to educate everyone on why it exists and what purpose it ultimately serves.

One of the benefits of creating a coded design system is that it can be adapted and augmented to include onboarding cues including education and training modules. There is an inherent complexity with the creation of a design system. But, the ability to access information independently across different types of audiences could be a real game changer. Particularly, in large organizations that are striving to increase adoption while simultaneously reducing overhead in the onboarding process.

It doesn’t have to be a boring or a staid experience. Gamification can be leveraged to create excitement and keep audiences engaged. Providing badges or other fun incentives for those progressing through the experience can create an enticing element to the process.

Example of Badging for Employee Onboarding. Source: Staffbase

3) Align Your Plan to Scale

Both you and your organization are responsible for creating a plan to address your current needs in design systems. It is also imperative to have conscientious foresight of the long-term goals; for your company itself and the consequent effects pertaining to design systems as your company grows and scales. This is particularly crucial with small-to-mid-sized companies where growth and scale are inevitable.

The most effective way to address inevitable factors is to determine if your organization has effectuated alignment with your chosen methodology for scaling and growing. This is just as important as defining a design strategy — organizational alignment is key to business growth and success. It will become a major driver for implementation of an appropriately sized design system. A system that accommodates the needs of your organization both today and in the future.

Gaining alignment will help:

  • Define product strategies and roadmaps
  • Develop a strategic understanding of target markets (customers/users needs) and evolving trends
  • Work across teams to define, design, and develop solutions
  • Drive decisions around prioritization, solutions, functionality, and growth
  • Develop supporting product KPIs and analysis of how they impact business priorities
  • Build and nurture world-class product teams. Provide mentorship, inspiration, regular guidance, and remove obstacles that impede performance of people, processes and systems
Alignment Book Cover

Jon Hensley, CEO of Emerge, has written an entire book on the topic of Alignment

4) Consult Your Entire Design Team

This should be a no-brainer, but your organization’s design team is a critical driver behind design system success. It isn’t only about creative directors or art directors. What is important to note here is that the entire design team should be a collective and collaborative part of the process when it comes to its definition and creation. Some companies are more inclusive than others when it comes to this process, but as any organization knows – ideas and solutions come from many places. Start with your creative and art directors, but also ensure you get a fresh perspective by talking to the very people who will be utilizing the design system the most across a diverse spectrum of needs on a daily basis.

Can designers work on files locally, or do assets need to live in the cloud? How does the design team operate when sharing resources and contributing towards ideas together? Are designers working individually or as part of a team? Answers to these questions can provide a better understanding of how specifically the design system can accommodate the most pressing needs of its primary user base.

5) Solicit Feedback to Accommodate Other Audiences

While design teams benefit the most from the creation and implementation of a well-defined design system, other varied audiences also benefit significantly in the process. Building a common shared language that breaks down silos and empowers all individuals to articulate their ideas helps everyone navigate the communication of your design strategy. This is especially important when it comes back to the anecdote referenced earlier. There is not any license to make arbitrary decisions when a design system is in play.

To facilitate this, seek and solicit feedback from a diverse spectrum of stakeholders in your organization when creating and developing the design system. It may need to adapt further to accommodate specific needs, but the benefits are huge. This can be performed with user testing, specifically moderated user testing, which can help reveal valuable insights and feedback.

Consider the following internal audiences when conversations about design and processes are conducted: 

  • Leadership – Speak with them from a high-level strategic perspective.
  • Marketing – Ask about their needs that fluctuate often.
  • Creatives – Help them understand and learn a shared design language and system.
  • Developers – Set them up for success when critically tasked with taking design and making it functional.

Can you speak to them and allow them to understand how to contribute effectively in a design conversation vs proffering up whatever feels “right in the moment”? When planning a design system, get feedback from each of these teams. The more information you have about needs and requirements, the better and more ‘right-sized’ the solution will be.

Defining Success For Your Design System One Step at a Time

Creating a design system does not have to be daunting, but it will require thoughtful planning and execution. The challenge with most organizations is a lack of time to do this real justice. Taking the time to do it right is a necessary first step. The second step involves assembling the right team to embrace this challenge and ensure its success. Some organizations have the right teams to do this, others may not have the right players to be able to effectively execute the challenges. Embarking on something of this magnitude is always substantially more fruitful with a knowledgeable partner. If you or your team need further consultation we’re here to help.