Tags: brand

28

sparkline

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Scenario-Driven Design Systems by Yesenia Perez-Cruz

I’m at An Event Apart Seattle (Special Edition) taking notes during the talks. Here are my notes from Yesenia’s presentation…

In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of change in web design as we have to adapt to so many viewports and platforms. We’ve gravitated towards design systems to manage this. Many people have written about the benefits of design systems, like AirBnB.

But how do you define a design system? You could say it’s a collection of reususable components.

Donella Meadows wrote Thinking in Systems. She said:

A system is an interconnected group of elements coherently organized in a way that achieves something.

A good design system inspires people to work with it. A bad system gets bloated and unusable. Yesenia has seen systems fail when there’s too much focus on the elements, and not enough focus on how they come together. Yesenia has learned that we should start our design systems, not with components, or modules, or legos, but with user scenarios.

Yesenia works at Vox Media. They have eight editorial networks. Two and a half years ago, they started a project to move all of their products to one codebase and one design system. Maintaining and iterating on their websites was getting too cumbersome. They wanted to shift away from maintaining discrete brands to creating a cohesive system. They also wanted to help their editorial teams tell stories faster and better.

It was hard. Each brand has its own visual identity, editorial missions, and content needs. So even though they wanted eight brands to use one design system, there needed to be enough flexibility to allow for unique needs.

There were some early assumptions that didn’t work. There was a hunch that they could take smaller modular components to address inconsistencies in design: layout, colour, and typography. They thought a theming system would work well. They started with layout modules, like three different homepage hero elements, or four different story blocks. They thought they could layer colour and typography over these modules. It didn’t work. They weren’t reflecting critical differences in content, tone, and audience. For example, Curbed and Recode are very different, but the initial design system didn’t reflect those difference.

That brings us back to Donella Meadows:

A system is an interconnected group of elements coherently organized in a way that achieves something.

They weren’t thinking about that last part.

They learned that they couldn’t start with just the individual components or patterns. That’s because they don’t exist in a vacuum. As Alla says:

Start with language, not systems.

They started again, this time thinking about people.

  • What’s the audience goal?
  • Is there a shared audience goal across all brands or are there differences?
  • What’s the editorial workflow?
  • What range of content should this support?

This led to a much better process for creating a design system.

Start with a fast, unified platform. It should load quickly and work across all devices. All patterns should solve a specific problem. But that doesn’t mean creating a one-size-fits-all solution. A design system doesn’t have to stifle creativity …as long as the variants solve a real problem. That means no hypothetical situations.

Identify scenarios. Brad uses a UI inventory for this. Alla talks about a “purpose-directed inventory”. Map core modules to user journeys to see how patterns fit together in the bigger picture. You start to see families of patterns joined together by a shared purpose. Scenarios can help at every level.

The Salesforce design system starts by saying “Know your use-case.” They have examples of different patterns and where to use them. Thinking in user-flows like this matches the way that designers are already thinking.

Shopify’s Polaris system also puts users and user-flows at the centre: the purpose of each pattern is spelled out.

The 18F Design System doesn’t just provide a type system; it provides an explanation of when and where to use which type system.

At Vox, “features” are in-depth pieces. Before having a unified system, each feature looked very custom and were hard to update. They need to unify 18 different systems into one. They started by identifying core workflows. Audience goals were consistent (consume content, find new content), but editorial goals were quite different.

They ended up with quite a few variations of patterns (like page headers, for example), but only if there was a proven content need—no hypothetical situations.

Brand expression for features is all about the details. They started with 18 very different feature templates and ended up with one robust template that works across device types but still allowed for expression.

The “reviews” pieces had a scorecard pattern. Initially there was one unified pattern that they thought would be flexible enough to cover different scenarios. But these scorecards were for very different things: games; restaurants, etc. So people’s needs were very different. In the end, instead of having one scorecard pattern, they created three. Each one highlighted different content according to the user needs.

Homepages were the most challenging to unify. Each one was very distinct. Identifying core workflows took a lot of work.

What’s the value of the homepage? Who is the audience? What are they looking for?

They talked to their users and distilled their findings down into three user goals for homepages:

  • What’s new?
  • What’s important?
  • What’s helpful?

Those needs then translated into patterns. The story feed is there to answer the question “What’s new?”

When it came to variations on the home page, they needed to make sure their design system could stretch enough to allow for distinctly different needs. There’s a newspaper layout, an evergreen layout, a morning recap layout.

Again, Alla’s advice to focus on language was really helpful.

In the process of naming an element, you work out the function as a group and reach agreement.

The last piece was to have a scalable visual design system. Brands need to feel distinct and express an identity. They did this by having foundational elements (type scale, colour system, and white space) with theming applied to them. Thinking of type and colour as systems was key: they need to cascade.

But how do you tell good variation from bad variation? Variation is good if there’s a specific problem that you need a new pattern to solve—there’s a user scenario driving the variation. A bad variation is visual variation on components that do the same thing. Again, the initial design system provided room for “visual fluff and flair” but they were hypothetical. Those variations were removed.

The combination of a scenario-driven system combined with theming allowed for the right balance of consistency and customisation. Previously, the editorial team were hacking together the layouts they wanted, or developers were creating one-off templates. Both of those approaches were very time-consuming. Now, the reporters can focus on telling better stories faster. That was always the goal.

There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s always a pendulum swing between consistency and variation. Sometimes the design system goes too far in one direction or the other and needs to be recalibrated. They want to be able to add more detailed control over typography and spacing.

To wrap up:

  1. Successful design patterns don’t exist in a vacuum.
  2. Successful design systems solve specific problems.
  3. Successful design systems start with content and with people.

See also:

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

The first visual identity for UK Parliament

Some lovely branding work for the UK Parliament, presented very nicely.

90 Minutes | Type Supply

Tal Leming’s thoroughly delightful (and obsessive) account of designing the 90 Minutes typeface for U.S. Soccer.

FIFA has strict regulations that govern the size and stroke weight of numbers and letters used on official match uniforms. This made me unbelievably paranoid. I had a nightmare that one of the national teams would be set for kickoff of an important match and the referee would suddenly blow the whistle and say, “Hey, hey, hey! The bottom stroke of that 2 is 1 mm too light. The United States must forfeit this match!”

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

How to Redesign a Tech Logo + Subtraction.com

I think Khoi might be on to something here …but I also think this change in priorities is no bad thing:

Consider the macro trend of these brands all visually converging alongside the industry’s current mania for design systems. That juxtaposition suggests that we’re far more interested in implementing ideas than we are in ideas themselves.

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning

There’s a running joke at just about any gathering at Clearleft where we measure TTPL—Time To Pace Layers—a measurement of how long we can discuss anything before making an inevitable reference to Stewart Brand’s framing.

It’s one of those concepts that, once your brain has been exposed, you start seeing everywhere. Like bad kerning or sexism.

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Building Flexible Design Systems // Speaker Deck

The slides from Yesenia’s talk on scenario-driven design.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

UI Sounds: From Zero To Hero | Icons8 Blog

Following on from Ruth’s piece, here are some more thoughts on sound in UI from Roman Zimarev, the creator of icon sounds.

He makes a distinction between notification sounds and interaction sounds, as well as talking about sound identity in branding.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

It’s Nice That | A new national identity: Smörgåsbord Studio rebrands Wales

Smörgåsbord Studio created a design system for the Welsh government, including the typeface Cymru Wales Sans from Colophon.

The accompanying video lists the design principles:

  • Elevate our status
  • Surprise & inspire
  • Change perceptions
  • Do good things
  • Be unmistakably Wales

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

Re: Brand | Happy Cog

After Clearleft’s recent rebranding, I’m really interested in Happy Cog’s redesign process:

In the near future we’ll be rolling out a new website, followed by a rebrand of Cognition, our blog. As the identity is tested against applications, much of what’s here may change. Nothing is set in stone.

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Designing inspired style guides presentation slides and transcript | Stuff & Nonsense

Having spent half a decade encouraging people to make their pattern libraries public and doing my best to encourage openness and sharing, I find this kind of styleguide-shaming quite disheartening:

These all offer something different but more often than not they have something in common. They look ugly enough to have been designed by someone who enjoys configuring a router.

If a pattern library is intended to inspire, then make it inspiring. But if it’s intended to be an ever-changing codebase (made for and by the kind of people who enjoy configuring a router), then that’s where the effort and time should be concentrated.

But before designing anything—whether it’s a website or a pattern library—figure out who the audience is first.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Arrival – Mozilla Open Design

Mozilla’s audacious rebranding in the open that I linked to a while back has come to fruition.

I like it. But even if I didn’t, congratulations to everyone involved in getting agreement across an organisation of this size—never an easy task.

Friday, October 28th, 2016

jwz: They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo

Jamie Zawinski tells the story of how John Carpenter’s They Live led to Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant which led to Mozilla’s logo.

So that was the time that I somehow convinced a multi-billion dollar corporation to give away the source code to their flagship product and re-brand it using propaganda art by the world’s most notorious graffiti artist.

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Mozilla Open Design – branding without walls

Mozilla are updating their brand identity and they’re doing it in the open. A brave, but fascinating move.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The Brand Deck by Scott Thomas — Kickstarter

This Eno-esque deck of cards by Scott could prove very useful for a lot of Clearleft projects.

The Brand Deck

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Monday, 7 July 2014 – The Pastry Box Project

Words of wisdom from Scott on the clash of brand guidelines and the flexible nature of the web:

One thing I am pretty sure of though, is that having a fast, accessible, user-friendly site can reflect incredibly well on a company, and I’d love to see more guidelines and expectations that prioritize these aspects of a service as branding requirements in addition to the usual visual details.

Monday, March 26th, 2012

What’s in a Name? | The Intercom Blog

The hitherto unnoticed connection between the names of Android phones and the names of condoms.

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Fresh Impressions on Brandmarks (from my 5-year-old) - YouTube

A five year old provides a few remarks on some popular logos. Cute!

Fresh Impressions on Brandmarks (from my 5-year-old)

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Escaping the Digital Dark Age

Stewart Brand wrote this twelve years ago: it’s more relevant than ever in today’s cloud-worshipping climate.

I’d like to think that it’s ironic that I’m linking to The Wayback Machine because the original URL for this essay is dead. But it isn’t ironic, it’s horrific.

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Flyer beware; real cost of flying Ryanair « Alan Colville

Superb in-depth analysis of Ryanair’s website dark patterns and nasty brand strategy.

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Wired 9.03: Founding Father

Here’s a gem from the past: a thoroughly fascinating and gripping interview with Paul Baran by Stewart Brand. It’s thrilling stuff—I got goosebumps.