UXDX and Design Systems - Observations and Thoughts From UXDX 2019
In early October the design team at Arundo attended UXDX in Dublin to collaborate and learn from other design leaders from around the world.
In early October the design team at Arundo was lucky enough to attend UXDX in Dublin. The event was hosted at the beautiful RDS Venue in the Ballsbridge area. Designers from Houston and our Oslo offices went to collaborate with other design leaders from around the world and continue learning and expanding our individual skillsets.
UXDX is a yearly conference that uncovers the best way to build products. Gone are the days of tackling individual projects and tossing them over the wall. The process of building products is a very challenging but exciting field and we wanted to learn from the best!
One talk I found interesting was Reimagining design systems at Spotify by Gerrit Kaiser. It was interesting to hear how they approached design systems at Spotify. In particular, understanding the reasoning behind Design Systems, learning how to build design tokens, and understanding Spotify's UX and how users understand their product as one single brand. Another key point was the concept of one brand equals one system, and the general shared brand governance for an organization.
The talk was very enlightening and validated that the approach we are striving for here at Arundo is on the correct design journey.
WHAT IS A DESIGN SYSTEM?
There are many different definitions of what Design Systems are but I like the explanation from the book Laying the Foundations by Andrew Couldwell.
"Design systems bring order and consistency to digital products. They help to protect the brand, elevate the user experience, and increase the speed and efficiency of how we design and build products." ~ designsystemfoundations.com
Gerrit Kaiser explained how Spotify faced these inconsistencies and how they solved them. Their design team needed a better way to combine the efforts of multiple design teams worldwide but also through the many expansive products Spotify touches. But wouldn’t having many designers working on their individual design systems solve their problem? Not necessarily, although each "team" had basic guidelines, foundations, color theory, etc. It created more confusion and there was not a cohesive Spotify design system.
So what is their secret ingredient, how did they accomplish this difficult task? They had to first start with the context of the people they were creating their design system for and their strategies. Aside from that, Kaiser explains that:
"Design systems are meant to encode the character and personality of your brand and company. They have to adapt to organizations because every single one is different."
A company like Spotify makes products that are used in many different ways from phones, watches, online, offline and even in fridges. They don’t just create a single app but an intangible disembodied ever-pressing service.
Similarly at Arundo, we have products that range from small Linux machines to robust digital products than run in the cloud. Approaching these as individual products can be a short-sighted win but we must look higher and understand the full scope of what the Design System is trying to answer. In essence, it’s the building blocks for designers, engineers, writers, product, and sales, and a tool to unite everyone.
DESIGNERS NEED CODE!
Before you freak out, no, designers are not turning into programmers. But Kaiser brought up a great point that Design Teams need to produce code that improves their day-to-day tooling and prototypes. This does not mean designers doing the front end development but encoding design decisions in a repeatable and scalable way.
Designing for a single product can be simple but standardizing design for an entire platform starts to become complicated. Kaiser talked about the complexities and needs they were being faced with at Spotify. One of the major ones was having 22+ design systems created from their autonomous teams. Having many designers can be great for productivity but it can quickly turn into chaos without some order. That is where Design Systems come in to create structure and consistency. They needed to answer simple questions like:
- Where do I find all the design resources?
- What button do I use here?
To solve this they needed to build a design systems architecture that is unified and accessible, just like their products.
So how does Arundo accomplish disseminating information across an organization in repeatable and scalable ways? We haven’t solved this challenge completely but are tackling it by establishing foundations to build upon. Foundations like purpose, value, and impact on the organization. We are in the midst of developing this and going to UXDX was amazing because Arundo is facing very similar problems to some of the top companies in the world! Problems like complete autonomous teams, lack of design foundations and the ability to implement tooling in the best way possible. This is quite an exciting time for design at Arundo!
In summary, this was only one talk on one single topic. I also was able to attend great talks on Team Ownership by Christopher Slowe (Reddit), Creating a tangible product vision by Cindy Chastain (Mastercard), Dual Track Agile by John Schrag (Autodesk), Designing for Pattern by Micael Gough (Uber) and many more. On top of that, the city of Dublin is absolutely beautiful and being able to connect with many like-minded people was such an amazing experience.