Design Language Integration        

Organizational Transformations Through Design

November 28, 2017

By: Nikhil Mathew, Manager of Design Research and Strategy, Beyond Design, Inc.

Organizational expansion happens through different strategic initiatives. One of the most common expansion is through acquisitions and mergers. During mergers and acquisitions, roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies change impacting multiple divisions across the organization. Sometimes, during this transition phase, each division functions as a smaller entity within the large organization. This can be due to the difference in operations, work cultures and even products developed from those divisions. Cross category initiatives are yet to be established as it takes time and this limits the number of interactions. Productivity can be affected and redundancies in processes will come into play. There are also limitations to scalability of processes especially if we are looking at a global organization. This is an exciting design thinking problem and we have found an answer with: Design Language.

Over many years we have worked with such organizations helping them to integrate processes, increase productivity and reduce redundancies through different design initiatives.

Portfolio Integration

Portfolio integration through the development of a coherent design language is one of those initiatives. The most common interpretation of a design language is a style guide. Often referred to as a visual brand language (VBL), it is mostly confined to creating a visual consistency among products. While a consistent visual look helps to develop a cohesive offering, its true impact is in creating a positive cultural change within the organization. The difference between a style guide and a design language initiative that impacts the organizational culture is in the selection of the methods and processes used.

Over the past several years, we have been working with organizations that have gone through this transformation. Based on the collective learning from such initiatives, some of the critical steps that can elevate a design language program to become much more than a style guide include:

Establishing a Co-Creative Process
At a high-level, the creation process of a design language has all the key ingredients of a design process. It goes through understanding the context and intent, ideation and exploration of concepts, a selection process to narrow them down, and an iterative process to refine and finalize them. The process should include the following 8 items:

1. Stakeholder interviews: To create a context and understand the culture of an organization, it is critical to discover the key stakeholders and their cumulative vision of an organization’s core offerings. During the initial stages of the research, a series of stakeholder interviews are done to gather this data. Alignment at leadership level gives visibility and creates intrigue within the organization. It is also the beginning of integrating different departments which are currently running in silos under a single mission.

2. Co-creation: Concepts are generated with a cross-disciplinary team taking into account the maximum variability. This ensures that all aspects are taken into consideration during concept exploration. Participants in such an ideation session can bring in ideas from diverse perspectives and designers can visualize, integrate and articulate them in the required formats. This is often done with a core team with representatives from as many divisions as possible.

3. Internal Evaluations: Viability and feasibility tested with different internal teams to ensure that the solutions can be brought to market. This is a pre-buy-in method to gain internal support for the design direction. In a traditional waterfall approach, this process comes as a constraint or as a filtration system later on in the process where design can get compromised.

4. Scalable and Inclusive Guidelines:  The most critical element to take into consideration is the scalability of the language. While the design identifiers can look great on some products they may not articulate well on others. Guidelines will have to accommodate scalability to take exceptions into account for application across a broad range of products. This is even more critical if the products are global and are used by different types of users in different environments. The team has to also address if there are sub-languages within the system or if it is a single cohesive language with enough scalability.

5. Cross-disciplinary benefits: While the design is sometimes an afterthought often confined to the externals, the existence of design elements gives product development a head start. This has both internal and external benefits. For example, take color options. In a traditional sense, they are ordered by individual teams, and this creates duplicates. We will see multiple whites, grays and other colors. Streamlining enables part and material reduction allowing product consistency and cost savings from procurement point of view.

6. Test projects: Test projects are a great way to check the scalability and comprehensiveness of the language. These test projects can run in parallel during the initial stages of guideline creation. The objective here is to test the guidelines on extremely different products to see who are the outliers and what aspects cannot be scaled.

7. Road Map Projections and Integrations: Integration of design language to the portfolio road map can ensure that visual design considerations are taken into account at an early stage. Also, this helps to identify what aspects of the language need to be addressed based on refreshes versus new product initiatives. Integration of the design language into the road map also empowers the team, enhances productivity and builds a seamless development process.

8. Process Expansion and Monitoring: After the successful completion of a few projects and integrating the language into the road map, design languages can get into the next stage of expanding to new markets, new products etc. We recognize setting up a core internal governing body that consists of representatives from different divisions to ensure consistency in design application. They also function as a feedback system making sure language evolves and grows in an organic fashion.

Becoming a Design Thinking Organization
The different stages are a surface level overview of best practices that have worked well in the past. As the concept of design as a discipline evolves, it needs more than the core design team to control and manage it. Realization of the impact of design at an organizational level attracts different teams to participate in this process as there are strategic and tangible benefits.

Design from a tactical afterthought transforms into a higher level strategic driver which influences and impacts the brand, user experience, and organizational growth. This eventually grows and transforms into a design thinking driven organization, creating a core cultural change.

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All images belong to Beyond Design, Inc.

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