The Three Cs: How Design Systems Can Set Your Digital Products Up for Success

Recent research among global pharma professionals revealed that only 4% agree that their digital products regularly succeed and achieve objectives, so what’s going wrong? While businesses are putting time and effort into developing new apps and websites, the impact is often lower than expected.

Implementing a design system—an evolving library of reusable visual styles, principles, rules and components—is one way to introduce consistency, improve cadence, and deliver cost efficiencies that can help you set your digital products up for success.

Much like Lego, a design system consists of the baseline building blocks that can be pieced together in any number of ways. Not only does a design system make it simpler to build digital products, it also makes them more scalable and helps to provide a better user experience.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Design System?

Consistency

Understanding your users’ needs is essential for improving user experience—and when it comes to navigating digital platforms, whether that’s apps, websites, or portals, they need them to be quick and easy to use. From time-poor healthcare providers to patients who need support and information, they will benefit from products that they can easily navigate, which feel and look familiar to them, and that they can engage with in the same way across sites.

For pharma companies, which typically have digital products that cover many different brands or therapeutic areas, a lack of consistency can be confusing. Having a design system—a single source of truth—allows you to develop visually consistent products that meet your organization’s and its users’ high standards.

This is particularly important if you are working globally or with multiple markets. Having clearly defined building blocks for your digital products sets the standard for all markets, and can be effective in ensuring that omnichannel marketing is viewed and consumed in the same way across the globe.

Cadence

Custom designing a single website might be faster, but when you are developing multiple products, setting up a design system can pay dividends. Once in place, it enables digital products to be produced more quickly.

Not only does this mean you can get to market faster than if you were producing a custom solution each time, it helps with regulatory approval too. By creating components that can be reused, you can be confident that once elements have been approved, it will gain approval again without complications that could otherwise delay projects.

Cost

Once you have the elements of your design system set up, you are good to go. It cuts down on production costs, as each element can be used for different solutions instead of having to pay to develop and build a new solution each time. As development is often the largest cost of your digital product build, this can lead to significant savings, leaving the budget available to invest in other areas, such as R&D or user research.

How Does a Design System Work?

The best design systems follow atomic design principles, which essentially means we have components at multiple levels that can be combined to form another, larger component. The progression from atoms to molecules to organisms to blueprints to pages can seem complex, but in simpler terms, what we mean is taking individual elements, such as an image, title, description, and call to action to build a template, developing that template into a page, and then those pages forming a wider digital product.

Working this way has the benefit of making changes across multiple pages and sites quickly and easily. Whether that’s changing a color, updating copy, or replacing an image, when you make a change to one component of the “atom,” it will change across all pages and websites that include that element.

Any design system should be customer centric, which is why it is important to focus on user research, business analysis, and quality assurance in the first instance—in addition to the design itself. This ensures that the components created are solid and meet user needs. The earlier you get your development team involved—and foster a close-knit working relationship between development and design teams, ensuring both are on the same page from the start—the more likely it is that the end product will be successful.

Once in place, your design system can be as variable or as rigid as you would like. If you want every digital product to use the same font, you can set that as a guideline, or alternatively you could give your marketers complete freedom—but the base elements will ultimately function in the same way. To ensure no confusion, it is critical to document your design system so that designers are clear on where and how a component can be used, and its rules.

It is important to bring members of the marketing team who were not involved in the set-up process along for the ride. Anyone who will be using the design system needs to know what it is, what it can be used for, and how it can benefit them (as well as being made aware of its documentation). Internal communications should be run regularly and effectively to encourage effective uptake of the new system.

What Does Success Look Like?

Ultimately, a well-designed and implemented system is more likely to result in a successful digital product. When changes and updates can be made seamlessly by your marketing teams, and new digital products for different markets or therapies can be created quickly, it saves your company time and money and delivers a better experience for your customers too.

Effectiveness can be tracked by pace of work and how efficiently digital products can be created and updated, but it is also important to have measurement systems in place to track the overall success of a new design system. You should look at user needs and customer experience before and after the system is implemented. Having a benchmark to start from also helps when it comes to knowing what additions or changes might be needed to improve customer experience going forward.

So, using a design system can set up your digital products for success both in the initial development and later updates—but it is important to get it right. Whether you are setting it up in-house or bringing in experts to help, the end result will certainly not disappoint.

  • Edward Hart

    Edward Hart is Lead Product Designer at Graphite Digital, a digital customer experience agency that collaborates with healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations to deepen customer connection through meaningful digital experiences. Ed is skilled in digital strategy and UX and UI design, with extensive experience working within regulated industries. He’s successfully delivered digital products and design systems for top global pharma organizations, scaling across brands and markets, and training client teams and vendors in effective use.

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