Brand Design System – A Central Pillar of Successful Company
The brand design system has many benefits that the company could not ignore. Get its understanding with our guide to make it work for your business.
Do you know that a well-thought-out brand design system can accelerate teamwork by 35%? Thanks to that, the analysts behind Figma have figured out that their team saves up to 140 hours of design work a week. This staggering amount of time is equivalent to getting help from 3.5 designers.
There is more. A brand design system is crucial for companies regardless of scale and age. It brings a vast number of benefits that translate into actual revenue. Whether you build it with your department or ask for help from a professional design system company, it will significantly boost your company's development across various verticals, including digital marketing, email marketing, advertising, customer relationships, etc.
If you are one of those who still do not have a brand design system, then you miss a lot. Dive into our guide to this concept to clear things up, understand its vast potential, and get a basic understanding of how to bring it to life.
Defining Brand Design System
A brand design system is a complex term that initially seems abstract, unclear, and ambiguous. In theory, it is a guide that reflects brand values and vision, introduces brand personality, encapsulates the brand's mission, and aligns with strategic business goals to navigate the company's decisions concerning creating assets for campaigns and brand presentation. In practice, everything boils down to a set of tools and books filled with rules and recommendations that make the work easier and more sustainable.
Let us break it into pieces to get the hang of it. We will start with the essentials – what is brand positioning, the central pillar of the brand design system.
What Is the Brand Positioning?
Brand positioning defines how a company sits in customers' minds and what space it holds in the market. It also features its main characteristics describing how a company differs from its competitors.
A brand positioning strategy is directly linked to designing the company's offering and image to deliver the right message to the target audience and make them perceive the brand the right way.
What Is a Design System?
Another crucial aspect to consider when defining a brand design system is the design system itself. The deal is it is much more than a Style guide or a Pattern Library. Traditionally used in the Art industry, the design system is a set of deliverables constantly evolving with the product, the tools, and the new technologies. It comprises tangible units (colors, fonts, images, etc.) and non-tangible elements (values, mindset, beliefs, etc.).
Definition of Brand Design System
Based on the interpretations above, we can provide a thorough yet simple and clear definition of the brand design system.
A brand design system is a set of brand guidelines developed with core elements such as beliefs, values, mission, and goals in mind. It is a collection of reusable components and assets that achieve these crucial goals:
- make a meaningful unit,
- show teams how to design elements that work together,
- give instructions on how to visualize, implement and develop a brand design aligned with the primary brand strategy.
The essential components of a brand design system are:
- Visual identity elements: color schemes, typography, graphics, images, language, and all sorts of design elements.
- The brand's core features: the brand's vision, values, and beliefs.
- Standards: team-approved design principles, time-proven design tools, best practices in responsiveness, accessibility guidelines, usability recommendations, etc.
- A set of rules to design language, tone, and voice in communications.
- Functional detailed documentation.
- Technical documentation.
Importance of Brand Design System
Developing a strong brand design system requires money, time, effort, and human resources. It is not a side project your team will get to once in a while. Every brand strategist will say it should be the top priority in brand development. Consider the main reasons why investing in this venture is vital.
- It is the backbone of a strong and consistent brand identity.
- It underlies a consistent narrative.
- It is a foundation on which the company will build up assets used in all marketing and advertising campaigns.
- It helps teams work more unified way, producing incredible results within a short time.
- It results in a cohesive brand experience for the end customer.
- It boosts efficiency across various departments in the entire organization.
- It scales design, development, and marketing efforts.
- It meets the company's strategic and operational needs.
- It facilitates the design team's work and cuts marketing expenses and efforts.
- Last but not least, it brings various benefits to the brand.
Brand Design System Benefits
Well-thought-out brand design system builds a sustainable business value that offers significant benefits. Here are the top five of them.
Speed Up Execution
This is probably the most obvious, yet it is the strongest and the most valid. With a set of reusable components, the brand design system allows for fast execution. This means your company will not stay in a rut too long and lose money. Plus, it will not waste precious time on pontificating or doing tedious tasks, thereby getting some extra time and human resources to improve the product, user experience, communication, and all other aspects of the company's development.
Finally, fast execution may increase performance, let the company quickly adjust to the situation, seize opportunities that come and go, and tackle bigger and greater projects efficiently.
With established essential elements, a pack of rules, and usage guidelines, it is much easier to stay on track, create products and assets that meet the brand's vision and remain consistent in presentation, delivering the right message to the target audience. This consistency does much good for the brand. For instance,
- It advocates exceptional user experience.
- It increases trust and credibility because people cling to predictable companies that do not require unnecessary steps to learn them.
- It makes consumers feel connected with the company.
- It makes the company easily recognizable.
- It strengthens the overall brand system.
- It makes the company memorable.
- It generates certain emotions that turn clients into brand ambassadors.
On top of that, it provides a sustainable business value that cements relationships with the target audience and improves the company's position in the market, making it stable despite economic fluctuations.
Amplify Company's Culture
Brand design system creates unity and so-to-say eco-system that influences not only marketing and design decisions but also the behavior patterns of employees. While small startups cannot fully appreciate this benefit because their capsule team has tight bonds. This benefit becomes crucial for mid-sized businesses and large corporations, where departments exist independently.
The deal is that the larger the organization, the harder it is to manage the teams and departments. However, with a design system that advocates principles and provides instructions aligned with the brand's core values, strategy, and goals, it is much easier to get everyone on the same page, encourage them to participate, channel their efforts in one direction and get everyone back on track.
On top of that, a fervently supported brand design system creates a sense of unity and exclusivity, making staff feel an integral part of something big and unique. This feeling heightens involvement and engagement, boosting productivity and decreasing retention costs.
Improve Risk Management
Even though this isn't the first thing that comes to mind when listing the benefits of building a robust brand design system, however, it should be here because it lies at the core of excellent execution and great user experience.
Brand design system increases project quality control, advocates consistency in execution, and centers decision-making on strategic goals, ensuring outcomes are aligned with business strategy. This repeatable certainty mitigates execution risks and bugs and improves the overall risk management process.
A well-thought-out brand design system can have a significant impact on increasing the margins because of these reasons:
- It reduces organizational errors.
- It works on communication needs.
- It improves efficiency.
- It amplifies productivity.
- It handles larger branding process easily.
- It ensures marketing efforts reach their goals without much investment and sacrifice.
- It reduces development costs and retention costs.
- It improves conversions and leads.
- It increases ROI.
Moreover, with consistency and the high level of trust that the brand design system instills, the company may ask for a higher price or encourage the audience to try new products, thereby opening new opportunities to generate revenue.
Obstacles and Flaws of Creating Brand Design Systems
We could not help but mention flaws of brand design systems and obstacles that await companies on their path. Cons of brand design systems are:
- Consistency may turn into monotony that causes a lack of variety and intent, scaring away even the loyal clients.
- The system boundaries restrict designers and developers and ipso facto reduces their creativity.
- The design system does not imply exploration and discovery phases crucial for building a user experience tailored to the current target market's preferences and needs.
- Decisions dictated by the brand design systems may quickly become outdated.
- Poor accessibility.
- Lack of essential elements. It is challenging to cover everything; therefore, the team may fall short of some basic components from time to time.
Along with these weaknesses that need to be addressed, it is crucial to know what obstacles companies will meet when creating a robust brand design system. Let's list them:
- Lack of executive support, communication, and participation.
- Cross-platform deployment.
- Fine-tuning of components.
- Unexpected bugs.
Steps to Create Brand Design System
Any company can enjoy a brand design system that has long-term benefits for the years to come. Let us consider the main steps of bringing it to life.
Gather Information You Need
Everything starts with the preparation stage. You have to gather all crucial data that will influence the decision-making process and navigate the design team during this process. Make sure to list these:
- Brand's core values, mission, and vision.
- Strategic goals.
- Current standards to meet.
- Design principles to implement.
- Web content accessibility guidelines to follow.
Audit the Current Design Process
Reviewing and analyzing your company's current approach to design helps you decide what essential elements you require and what stages need to be streamlined and improved. This stage also implies evaluating the team's capabilities, maturity, and weaknesses.
Set Goal and Deliverables
The brand's design system needs to have a goal. All parties involved should understand the reason and the prime goal why they are investing their precious time, effort, and money. Therefore, analyze all spheres where the brand's design system is involved: digital marketing, advertising, customer communication, etc. Consider the benefits that a brand design system brings. Select the most desirable for your company at the current life stage and set them as objectives. Plus, define deliverables and deadlines.
Select Proper Tools
The web is teeming with tools. Some are universal and let you create UIs that can be used everywhere, while others are niche-specific and may require additional adaptation. Plus, some are easy to enter, while others may require tutorials or previous experience.
Depending on your team's knowledge, skills, background, and, most importantly, objectives and deliverables, you need to decide what tools to employ. At a minimum, you have to agree on tools in these categories:
- Wireframe and prototyping.
- Storybook and style guide for component documentation.
- Management and governance.
- Testing and deployment.
Determine Brand's Alphabet
To build a visual language, you need an alphabet. It includes brand identity elements such as values and vision and brand language such as colors, fonts, shapes, animations, voice, and tone. On top of that, it should include the emotional constituent because it is crucial to determine how you want customers to feel while interacting with design elements and stylistic choices.
So, what can you do here? Review the brand's guidelines and interview stakeholders to work on design principles and style guides. Determine the elements that create the feel of your brand that will instill the desired emotion in your customers.
Build a Pattern Library
There are millions of pattern libraries in the wild, but you cannot just copy them. You may use them as a foundation, but you still need to create one tailored to your brand, specific to your niche, agreeable with your target audience's expectations and preferences, and oriented to the company's goals.
Therefore, start with auditing an existing UI. This helps to avoid design duplication and fragmentation. Plus, you will be able to identify principal UI properties and their areas of importance.
Then, create an information architecture. It will make clear paths for designers and developers and enhances the entire process.
After that, build functional patterns. This includes the structure of your design, such as front-end or back-end layouts.
Finally, build perceptual patterns. This includes the visuals like color palettes, typography, icons, fonts, spacing, and interactions.
Document Style Guide, Rules and Guidelines
After completing your set of reusable components, the time has come to create guidelines with clear instructions on how and when to use design elements. At a minimum, you need to state these:
- Instruction on how, when, and why to use components.
- Shared practices on how teams can effectively operate and maintain the system.
- Rules of contributing to the system.
- Plans to address ongoing maintenance issues.
- Recommendations for improving the system.
While defining this, it is crucial to remember that a brand's design system should give designers and developers freedom to explore new approaches and realization. It should provide a solid yet flexible framework with strict and loose rules.
Test, Improve and Govern
A brand design system is dynamic. It should constantly evolve to meet the ever-changing market's standards and the audience's preferences and expectations. Therefore, the stage of testing, improving, and governing is crucial for making it valid. Follow this routine:
- First, test your design system to eliminate flaws and weaknesses and determine what best resonates with your audience and delivers the message.
- Second, define the process of approving changes in your design system.
- Third, define the rules of scaling your design system.
- Fourth, create a clear governance strategy to help the design of the system adapt to changes.
- Finally, organize regular retrospective sprints to analyze the effectiveness of the brand design system to make necessary improvements.
Best Brand Design Systems Examples
From adaptable material design system to highly granular atomic design, brands employ various design systems at their cores. Let us consider the top three examples in this niche.
1. AppleWe could not help but start our hand-picked capsule collection of famous brand design systems with Apple. This American multinational technology company is synonymous with perfection and minimalism and has been a trendsetter in several niches for decades.
When we see their product, website, digital newsletter, advertising asset, packaging, and store, we can easily recognize Apple. Their brand design system expresses their unique brand identity. They have built a robust system that covers all aspects of the company's presence in the World, including design, advertising, UI/UX, communication with customers, working culture, and much more.
On top of that, they have built a brand design kit called "Human Interfaces" that contains guidance and best practices to create an excellent design with a great experience. You can familiarize yourself with instructions and rules and download Apple design resources to build on them.
2. Material Theming by GoogleAnother famous representative in this category is Google. In 2014, the biggest search engine in the World introduced its design system– Material Design. At its core, the system uses metaphors and meaningful interactions, encouraging designers and developers to create components that look and behave like physical world objects to make the designs more familiar and predictable for the target audience, thereby reducing cognitive load.
However, to make it applicable for brands, in 2018, the team introduced the improved version – Material Theming. Based on Google's brand values and mission, it has much-needed flexibility that encourages companies to style components according to their company's needs.
3. Fluent by MicrosoftAnother goliath of the tech industry ends our collection with a great example of a design system based on their brand's values and mission.
Fluent is an open-source, cross-platform brand design system with a powerful framework to build on. It considers accessibility, internationalization, performance, and other crucial aspects that help create a powerful brand identity. It spans excellently across many mediums and works in multiple environments providing the best result without asking for loads of precious time, effort, and money.
Charged with the best of the best principles, rules, and features of Microsoft, it has become a unified brand design system used not only by Bill Gates Corporation in its marketing endeavors but also outside team designers, user community, and partners.
A brand design system offers a bunch of benefits for the business. It streamlines workflow, promotes consistency, boosts efficiency and productivity, reduces costs, and increases ROI and revenue. It also underlies the successful realization of marketing efforts and overall brand development.
But it does not come easy. You have to make it a top priority, plan, encourage all departments across verticals to participate in the process and deploy it with thorough tests to meet current standards. On top of that, you have to remember that it is an ongoing project: it will always require some fine-tuning, periodic maintenance, governance, and adding new essential elements and features to keep up with the mainstream.
Though, in the end, it is worth it. The majority of companies that have created their brand design systems agree that their companies have grown faster and enjoyed substantial growth in revenue due to this concept.
Updated: May 30, 2023