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9 Nov, 2020

Measuring the Impact of Design Systems on Your Business Strategy

Key metrics focus on team and end-user feedback

Design systems provide businesses with tremendous value. Just ask any skilled product designer: They are time-savers; they enhance the end-user experience and, ultimately, the company’s revenue stream. However, explaining this to C-level executives and stakeholders can sometimes be a bit challenging especially if large amounts of money are involved. Of course, getting executive buy-in for a design system can help you grow your team and invest in new tools. You’ll be able to focus on more meaningful problems than, for example, designing the same primary button for the eighth time.

With this in mind, let’s go over the ways in which you can measure the impact your design system can have on your company. But first, the basics — what exactly is a design system?

Design System Ins and Outs

Before we explain what a design system is, let’s clarify what it’s not. A design system is not just a style guide with a collection of assets and components that you use to build a product.

As Nathan Curtis, the co-founder of EightShapes, states: “a design system isn’t a project, it’s a product serving products.”

Essentially, a design system is a collection of rules, including design principles, modules, or templates as well as UI patterns, typography scales, assets, and color palettes. Think of it as a set of standards that impacts the end-user experience in a very positive way on the outside and saves your team plenty of time and money by unifying your design and code.

Measuring Design System Success

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Measuring the success of your design system is twofold — your internal team and your end-user both need to be happy. There are metrics you can set up to determine if your design system provides your team with the right value as well as how it impacts the user experience.

The way you measure the success of your design system will depend on the size of your company. Large corporations with an umbrella of their own products will use different metrics than small start-ups that are trying to launch their first MVP. Large and distributed teams will want to save time and optimize processes, while smaller teams will likely focus heavily on the end-user experience and building their revenue base.

Let’s look at the internal approach to measuring the success of your design system first.

Adoption and Coverage

To make sure your design system is successful, focus on measuring these three areas: adoption, coverage, and shared ownership.

By adoption, we mean that your internal teams are actually using the design system. You can have the most beautiful components and assets, but these tools are worthless if nobody on your team is using them. Your designers and engineers must all trust and use the design system daily if it is to be successful.

When it comes to coverage, the less coverage the design system has, the more often designers and developers have to invent custom solutions to user-interface problems. A well-prepared good system needs to provide enough coverage to prevent ad hoc coding or designing when creating new features.

The last point is shared ownership. Your team must feel like it has a personal stake in the company’s design system. This is key to its success. The more someone is involved in building a tool, the more likely they are to trust it. Apart from allowing designers to make changes, it’s good to ask stakeholders for their input and developers for their contribution. That way, everyone feels empowered.

Feedback from End-Users and Team 

In addition to looking at adoption, coverage, and shared ownership, you can also measure the impact of a design system based on feedback collected from your end-users and internal teams. You can do this both subjectively and objectively.

Subjective measurement

The subjective measurement usually takes the form of surveying both your end-users and internal teams that use the design system. For end-users, you can create an NPS survey to collect feedback about the product’s usability in general, and for internal teams, you can simply ask questions about the design system like:

  • Does the design system improve your workflow?
  • How often do you use our design system?
  • What would you improve in the design system?

Objective measurement

The objective measurement, meanwhile, focuses on your team’s feedback about the design system based on the following questions:

  • Do we have a component library in our design system?
  • Does the design system include interactive components?
  • Did we include documentation in the design system?

Going Forward

You can, of course, measure the success of your design system using your own KPIs, as this is not a one-size-fits-all pattern. It’s important to start with a high-level idea of what success looks like for your business and design system and then look for measurable and specific evidence that will help you better track the needs of your end-users as well as your team. This will allow you to take your company to the next level, whether that be new investments, a different direction, or expanding to larger markets.

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