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Three ways we use bonds to scale products better and faster: Part 3

If you’ve read Parts One and Two of this series, you should now have a pretty clear idea of the value of bonds in successfully scaling your company. (If you’re still not sure, go back and read them again! Or, better still, get in touch!)

From hiring the right candidates to scaling a company culture, outsourcing to an agency, or wondering if it’s even the right time to engage an agency’s help — bonds are the secret sauce to creating proper alignment.

Put simply, thanks to established bonds, outcomes can be guaranteed, ambiguity eliminated, and everyone is headed in the same direction from day one.

Sounds good, right? Well, it actually doesn’t end there...

In this third and final part, we’ll be looking at the role of the Design System in bond creation and company growth. You’ll learn:

a.) why the Design System is your go-to tool for creating those all-important bonds

and

b.) how, through the implementation of a Design System and the intra-organizational bonds it creates, you can jump-start your company’s growth and scale at speed.

The Design System — what is it?

Ah yes, the Design System. The buzziest of buzzwords. Every cool company in the world is showing off their Design System and how it was made, including Figma, Atlassian, Facebook, Canva, Google and InVision.

To sum it up quickly, and with as little industry jargon as possible, a Design System is:

  • A collection or reusable or repeatable elements for the design and development of products and brands
  • A set of clear, easy to understand standards on how to use these elements
  • A tool to scale your product vision quickly and reliably
  • A group of elements that can be assembled in various ways to build any number of applications

In other words, a Design System is like a user manual for the design and development of a product.

A beautiful side-effect, or perhaps the accidental core benefit of Design Systems, is that they also enable fast-growing teams to scale their beliefs and values.

Rather than going into too much detail about what a Design Systems is and why you should (or shouldn’t) create one, you can find our favourite resources on the topic at the end of this article.

Now, let’s dive into how Design Systems create intra-organizational bonds, and the key role they play in helping you scale at a speed that you would never have thought possible.

How Design Systems create bonds

Imagine a workplace where every team member on every project knows exactly what to do, how to do it, and how to do it fast.

This might sound like a bit of a fantasy, but like all idealistic goals it’s worth striving for.

The first step in creating bonds with customers, clients and colleagues is to develop trust. There are two types of trust in the workplace; practical and emotional.

The practical side of building trust translates to reliability and accountability: that means showing up when you say you’re going to, and delivering on your promises and obligations.

The emotional side is a little less straightforward. Emotional trust is based on listening when people speak, showing respect to your team, and demonstrating that you can learn and grow from your mistakes. Essentially, your ability to build emotional trust is based on how others feel about you.

So how do feelings like trust and respect translate into concrete components of a Design System? We’re so glad you asked! They should look something like this:

  • Consistency across platforms creates trust between users and the product, helping them to feel at home everywhere
  • Consistency in terms of predictably creates trust by reducing the time and effort needed to learn new systems
  • Trust and confidence within the development/design teams means that they feel empowered to build something out of the box that can look, feel and work as intended without having to start from scratch

Essentially, your Design System (or ‘user manual’ for the design and development of a product) should explicitly embody platform consistency, bonds of trust both within a team and between different teams, and trust between the product and the user.

This structure provides a clear and stable framework within which your team can flourish creatively and the whole team’s productivity can soar. We’ll learn a bit more about how that happens in the next section, where we’ll look at why these bonds are so crucial to the rapid scaling and growth of a successful company.

How this helps you scale, fast

The problem with many product teams is that they function in a highly reactive way, putting out fires when needed, tackling problems without a compelling belief system, and sharing information in a disjointed, need-to-know fashion.

It’s because of this reactionary approach that products become slow and expensive to build: issues are tackled as and when they arise which means unexpected costs pile up, and problems take significantly longer to fix than if they were spotted in the design stage.

However, if teams were given a clear set of guidelines - yep! A Design System! - which promoted bonds of trust between teams and allowed time at the start of a project for designing, testing and iterating on products, issues could be addressed before development begins, saving oodles of time and money. Win-win.

Think of it this way: what would happen if countries changed their government and policies every few months?

Progress would turn into utter turmoil, and citizens would lose faith in a constantly changing system. And it makes sense: when the goalposts are constantly shifting, how can trust be built?

Design Systems act like a stable government with strong, citizen-centric laws and policies. These laws and policies allow citizens to build, learn and improve without the stress of keeping up with policy changes.

Think of designers, developers and product people as the architects of your empire. With the right systems and frameworks, they can build something truly awe inspiring, but without it, they’re running blind.

Finally, Design Systems also make work more fun for designers and developers because they take the repetition out of tasks, making more room for innovation, specialization, and creativity.

When all of these elements are added together companies not only scale faster than they would have thought possible, but produce higher quality products and retain happy, productive, creative employees too.

Is your company ready for a Design System?

While no one wants to promote the kind of anarchy described in the last section (images of lawless, barefoot citizens running around spring to mind), in this article we are also not blanketly promoting Design Systems for every business out there.

If your business or product is not at the right stage of its journey, and your team isn’t 100% committed to the process, then creating a Design System could end up turning into a black hole of wasted time and money. From our experience, the creation of a unified Design System often involves many stakeholders and is (in most cases) a huge undertaking.

So what is the right stage? We think that the best way to tell is by looking at the amount of customers you have, the size of your team, and the stage of the project.

If your product fits these requirements, you might be ready to think about building a Design System:

  1. The product is launched, has a customer base and is ready to start expanding the product with new features.
  2. The team has capacity to build the product and work on the Design System
  3. You have a desire to invest time in moving faster and to start reusing components of design and code
  4. When your team, product or user base starts accelerating at a rapid pace, and you start losing control over the consistency or quality of development (which we see happening often when companies receive an unexpected boost in new users or capital investment)

Design Systems are trending, sure. They can build trust, help you scale fast, and change the culture of your team or workplace. But like all things worth doing, they’re hard.

Like writing a constitution - to avoid the wild, shoeless scenario above - creating a Design System requires commitment, and a significant investment of time and resources to get it right. We are the first to evangelize on the benefits of doing so, but we are also the first to acknowledge that doing a half-hearted job is considerably worse than not doing it at all.

Here are our favourite resources on Design Systems: Sell a Design System The case for an open Design System Design Systems: Benefits, challenges and solutions Should your startup build a Design System? A comprehensive guide to Design Systems

And, that’s it!

You’ve reached the end of our scaling with bonds series! Now that you know how the Design System enables a framework which aids productivity, creativity and scalability, it’s time to see if now is the right time for you to start the discussion around implementing the system in your company.

Nobody wants to be running blind in a lawless land, but it’s important to remember that creating a Design System requires commitment, and a significant investment of time and resources to get it right.

We know that, once committed to the process, you’ll find the Design System a structure which provides you with a clear and stable framework within which your team can creatively flourish, while still enabling your company to scale at your desired speed.

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