The ROI for Design Systems: As digital competition accelerates, the winners are those that deliver scaled experiences faster and more efficiently.
Even at the the best of times, managing a large and complex digital portfolio isn't easy. For leaders, delivering customer-centric, and on-brand experiences can be daunting. First, there are many stakeholders with many competing priorities. Second, there are usually too few resources to go around. Now, as we enter an economic downturn, digital will need to deliver more, for less. The only question is: how?
While there are no easy answers, doing more with less is possible with Design Systems. To learn how, try our Design System ROI Calculator. Then read our Design System Business Case below.
The Business Case for Design Systems
Making the business case for a Design Systems is straightforward. As your digital operations grow, you need to manage these 3 key functions under a single system:
To understand why, it's important to consider how most traditional organizations operate today. In a traditional organization, many of the key digital functions are silo'd. Each silo has a different leader, with different priorities. Their measures of success are different too. To deliver their work, they use specialized processes and tools. This makes collaborating outside the silo difficult. It also makes finding opportunities to improve difficult. If you can't identify where to improve, you can't go faster. If you can't go faster, then you can't adapt to a changing market.
In other words, it doesn't scale. Failure to recognize this is the reason that costly and avoidable issues proliferate. These issues lower productivity and increase work-in-process to unsustainable levels. This impedes flow and when the work stops flowing, chaos ensues.
Welcome to "chaos-mode"
You'll know you're in chaos mode when leaders start asking uncomfortable questions. They'll want to know why everything looks off-brand. They'll want to know why they can't get the customer experience they asked for. They'll want to know why everything takes so long.
This shifts focus away from the intended goals. Then, as the finger pointing starts, and the blame game begins, work grinds to a halt.
In chaos-mode, work always arrives faster than it leaves. To catch up, teams multitask and parallelize their work. But all this multitasking causes quality to slip. Rework issues escalate. and technical debt piles up. As technical debt increases, iterating on the customer experience gets harder too. For employees, this all adds up to a lousy work experience.
For leaders, operating chaos-mode makes adapting to the market harder. Over time, it leads to declining revenue, lost market share and attrition.
Escaping chaos mode
To escape chaos mode, your platforms must enable collaborative development. Design Systems bring teams together under one system. This systematic approach improves flow to increase productivity and reduce waste. Improving flow is the key to addressing chaos-mode.
Over time, this will help your organization achieve three key business goals:
In the next section, we'll explain how to achieve these goals using Design Systems.
Business Goal 1: Reduce Rework
Avoiding rework is the best way to lower your costs by 40% to 50%. But to avoid rework, you must address it's most common causes. In software, undiscovered errors and omissions are the two most common causes. These errors and ommisions are the result of an ineffective approach to collaboration. Without effective collaboration, poor communication and coordination cascades through the workflow creating rework.
To address rework upstream, Design Systems use visual design tools to improve collaboration. During the problem definition phase for instance, visual tools help reduce ambiguity. Through the use of clear visuals, stakeholders align on the problem to solve faster.
To address rework as it moves downstream, Design Systems use prebuilt templates. These prebuilt templates ensure each new design aligns to the company design language. Over time, this ensures every experience and touchpoint stays on-brand. It also avoids the high cost of ongoing remediation for brand consistency.
Taken together, Design Systems are an effective way to reduce rework before implementation. To reduce costs and deliver more, avoiding rework before you code is key.
During implementation, Design Systems further reduce rework using high-quality reusable components. We'll discuss these further in Business Goal 3.
Business Goal 2: Improve Governance
You know you need better governance when everyone looks busy, but nothing ever seems to get done.
Ineffective governance occurs when your organizations strategy, policies and standards are unclear. Without proper governance to direct decision making, work grinds to a halt. This causes started work to sit idle waiting for direction before it can move forward.
This is a compounding problem because blocked teams take on more work to keep busy. Over time, this creates an untenable amount of work in the system.
To avoid this, Design System governance must align with the organizations strategic goals. This will ensure the Design System provides teams with the assets they need, when they need them. This in turn, helps to support adoption and utilization.
Good governance extends beyond strategy though. When it's time to build, good governance provides the policies needed to move fast. These policies create clarity around important topics like accessiblity, branding, and language. When the policies are clear, teams spend less time debating, and more time building.
In the same vein, good governance also includes clear standards. . These standards define a range of requirements that must implemented before launching. It includes standards for design, code, and editorial among others.
Business Goal 3: Protect Revenue
In today's economy, protecting revenue is more important than ever. This means your customer experience needs to keep pace with changing market forces. It also means building the capabilities needed to explore new markets.
To do this, you need to unchain your digital teams from mundane low-value work. Doing so will allow them to focus on two key capabilities. The first capability is time-to-market. The second is adaptability.
To develop these capabilities, the 80/20 rule is key. The first step is converting 20% of your most used UI elements into reusable components. In our experience, this improves lead times on the order of 40% to 80%.
The second step is to integrate these components into both new and existing products. Once complete, keeping pace with changing consumer preferences is far less.
As your reuse and automation capabilities improve, teams can stay focused on revenue. To increase revenue, Design Systems enable rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping is a useful way to develop customers and test new markets.
Managing a digital portfolio will always have it's challenges. As we enter a potential downturn, leaders will need to help their teams deliver more for less. To do that, systems thinking is key. Systems thinking helps to identify the best opportunities to improve and increase flow. To increase flow across your workflow, a Design Systems is a great place to start.
If you're considering Design Systems for your organization we can help.
Have questions, reach out to us at