Designing for scale: 3 key takeaways from Michael Vromans’ talk at Adobe MAX


Insights from DPDK CEO, Pim van Helten, on creating scalable design systems. 

DPDK Digital Agency
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Adobe MAX is Adobe’s annual global creativity conference. This year, it took place from October 26th to 28th. Creative professionals from all walks of life came together to share ideas, inspiration, and expertise. One of them was our very own Chief Creative Officer Michael Vromans.

In his session, Michael shared best practices to create scalable design systems and manage brand assets in Adobe XD. If you missed the talk, don’t worry, you can watch the full video here

In case you don’t have time to watch the entire talk, here are the three most important takeaways: 

 

1. Design systems are no longer optional

Design systems have been around for a while. In today’s increasingly complex digital ecosystems, they’ve become crucial to creating scalable designs, improving collaboration between departments, and providing a consistent customer experience (CX). 

It should come as no surprise, then, that design systems are becoming more and more popular. Michael offers four reasons for this spike in popularity: 

• Rise in competition

Growing competition has made it harder for brands to stand out and differentiate themselves. Design has become one of the defining differentiators in the fight against digital sameness. 

• Greater emphasis on branding

Branding and differentiation have become even more important, especially in digital environments where there are no physical products and customers can’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar experience.

• Dispersed teams

Teams are more scattered due to globalization and the impact of COVID-19.  At DPDK for example, we started working with a hybrid work model. Our team is currently operating from four continents and eight time zones. 

As you can imagine, dispersion can pose challenges for creative teams. This makes it all the more important to have a centralized system that’s accessible for everyone and where all brand assets and guidelines are stored. 

• More channels and touchpoints

Brands interact with their customers across a diverse range of touchpoints like websites, apps, social media, and more. As a result, greater effort is required to maintain consistency across these various channels. 

Together, these reasons call for an intelligent way to store our growing portfolio of assets and increase consistency across all channels, touchpoints, and products. In short, we need the ability to scale our designs.

 

2. No design system is an island

Our team has worked on thousands of impactful design projects. What we commonly see is that design systems are often treated as separate islands. Different departments often work with their own design systems, and these systems aren’t always connected to one another. Not working with a single source of truth can cause scattered and inconsistent brand experiences. 

Design systems are not islands. We see them as family trees that can branch out, grow, shrink, and have a hierarchical structure. Each design system should be connected to the other, across sub-design systems and platforms. That way designers can create consistent and on-brand designs, no matter which system they’re working with. 

In our own design ecosystem, the brand design system sits at the top of the hierarchy, informing and influencing all underlying subdesign systems. It contains our brand values, production files, presentation templates, and visual brand identity. That means logo, typography, color palette, guidelines, and more. The design system is available for designers as an XD file and is also accessible to our wider team under a shared brand portal. 

The five subdesign systems are associated with specific activities like our website, illustrations, and print publications. As our touchpoints increase, we can create new design systems that cater to them, or add them as a subsystem to an already existing design system.

 

3. Design systems need to be ever-evolving

Design systems take more than setting up some templates, guidelines, instructions and calling it a day. Building a core team dedicated to evolving and supporting the system is key to ensuring success. Just like how brands need brand advocates, designers and developers need to advocate for and guard design systems. 

A good example of that is our illustration design system (IDS), that ensures our content is consistent and on-brand across all touchpoints. The IDS is a constant work in progress, as we continually update and expand it with new designs. 

The IDS gives designers the freedom to design ‘inside the box.’ They can experiment with new ideas while safeguarding the look and feel of our illustration style. 

Regular feedback is important to keeping a complete overview and ensuring continuous development of the IDS. That’s why we host monthly review sessions where designers can present new ideas, concepts, and components. These sessions are also an opportunity to look back at previous designs and see what can be improved. At the same time, it gives our team flexibility to move forward without having to constantly seek approval. 

 

 

Design systems are a logical move for brands that want to scale their design efforts, speed up their workflows, improve collaboration between departments, and most importantly provide a consistent CX. The points above have helped us do that for our own design ecosystem, as well as for clients like Digital Realty and Forward You.  

You too can create a design system that works for you. Key is to keep track of your brand assets and guidelines as your ecosystem grows and touchpoints increase. With a centralized  and ever-evolving design system, you’ll be able to do just that.