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The Future of Enterprise Design Systems


According to a recent enterprise UX survey of 3,157 designers, developers, and product managers conducted by UXpin, improving UX consistency was noted as 1 of 4 top challenges in the design industry. At LDS our design teams are currently evaluating our approach to building design systems and exploring areas where we can improve and streamline our thought process to address this challenge while factoring for future ideas of scalability and governance of design.

In our early assessment of what works and doesn’t work with our approach and factoring research across the industry, a few common themes emerged that we feel are critical to our thinking:

  • Future-state design systems will need to bridge and relate the areas of design such as information architecture, content strategy, data and integrations, and visual design to represent the logical structure of design
  • Elements of design need to become more common (e.g. patterns) to seamlessly care for experiential contexts and variability in a systematic way
  • Design systems will need to adapt over time to care for evolving design trends and emerging technologies

Let’s talk about each of these in more detail.

Defining the structure of a design system

As is typical when undertaking new design projects, we looked across industries (both consumer and enterprise) for emerging best practices. We found that design systems available in the industry are based on broad common visual design and behaviors, providing reusable front-end elements and visual style intended for mass use. Most often these systems espouse aesthetics of a design philosophy (e.g., Google material design).

We believe design systems developed specifically for the enterprise need to balance commonality with specificity and complexity. These types of design systems comprise of building blocks that make it rules based and logical in nature to ensure a coherent experience at any point in time. We need to factor functionality that is deeper and more specific with respect to content models, data, and integrations. And it all needs to align to the structural premise of design contexts and information architecture as a foundation.

Lifting context more commonly through design

Our work in designing employee experiences results in rich, variable, engaging, and branded designs that deliver personalized services, knowledge, and guidance based on meaningful contexts. In the past, we’ve designed for these highly variable and complex contexts with unique page patterns and components that were typically not useful elsewhere in the design. Reflecting on our earlier work, we’re discovering that this approach has exposed a new set of challenges and limitations in design reusability and scalability when thinking about the future state of the solution.

How can the solution evolve to improve the value of the experience and the way it is consumed without adding to the complexity of the framework? This is a perfect example of why our thinking must evolve to realize commercial grade design experiences inside the enterprise. Our focus now is on creating patterns and components that emphasize contexts, in a repeatable way, through reusable and modular patterns and components, leveraging content models and data structures.

Longevity and evolution of the design system

The biggest question for us is how can we extend the longevity of design systems as experiences evolve. While we don’t have the answer yet, we can certainly ponder the implications:

  • How will the design system extend to include additional design best practices and capabilities (e.g., channels, multi-devices, artificial intelligence, conversational UI, third-party apps, etc.) as the experience evolves?
  • What is the purpose and role of the design system in governing the design?
  • What additional elements of design would be valuable to incorporate into the design system (e.g., code snippets, directional content, etc.)?

Stay tuned for more information as we advance our thinking on enterprise design systems.

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