In 1956, two leading designers, Eliot Noyes and Paul Rand, were commissioned by IBM to rethink and document the company’s enterprise-wide design approach. This project culminated in the creation of the iconic, eight-bar IBM logo, which amazingly is still in use today. This represented one of the first instances of a graphics standard to exist for a brand.
Decades later, the vast majority of brands still lean on brand guidelines as their single source of truth. From ad campaigns to mobile apps, these PDF-sourced standards gingerly bind it all together.
However, today’s omni-channel and often multisensory digital experiences require a richer set of guidelines to bring a brand to life.
All living entities share several defining characteristics: they’re complex organizations made of interrelated cells; they respond to outside stimuli; and they can adapt to their environments, reproduce, and evolve over time.
As brands begin the transition from static, one-way experiences to more fluid, natural, intelligent ones, they’ll begin to take on a similar set of characteristics.
The most successful brands have already started designing for smaller “networked” interactions across channels. The more advanced conversational and connected experiences are responding appropriately to users, gathering feedback, and able to iterate and adapt based on what they’re hearing and learning.
Digital experiences will no longer be a point-in-time project with a clear beginning and end. Instead they will live on a continuum as part of a larger, integrated system.
In the coming year, brands will increasingly turn to design systems to propel their holistic set of brand interactions. At the conceptual level, a design system is akin to a language, defining how a brand should communicate through word choice, voice tone, context, interaction, and visual style. Like a language, a design system can simultaneously set the necessary constraints for employees around the world, while also empowering them to use assets creatively.
At the most practical level, a design system is a living hub that allows researchers, designers, developers, marketers, and any other brand stewards to access and activate rich assets for traditional and emerging channels alike.
Recently GE designers faced a tall order: how to ensure brand continuity across 40,000 global software developers with a mighty team of ten. The answer: Predix, GE’s first design system. Using the idea of “design through code,” researchers and designers can validate a wireframe, and by tapping into the design system, development teams can quickly and easily generate fully functional designs. This approach not only allows for greater delivery velocity but frees up designers and developers for higher value functions.
Looking beyond the plastic credit card and traditional terminal payments, Visa developed distinctive sounds and vibrations that live in its brand design system and can be instantly leveraged around the world as the channel and experience mandate.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Fluent, Microsoft’s design system, the most robust version that exsits. The Fluent design language helps global Microsoft creators create better designs for complex ideas such as light, depth, motion, material, and scale.
As digital experiences become more immersive, sensory oriented, and complicated, enterprises look to design systems to ensure customer experiences are operationalized within their business and that all partners are aligned around a single language.
New digital experiences are great opportunities to pilot a design system, with the expectation that eventually, all brand interactions will transition to this approach. Static brand standards and guidelines are best if used by 2017.