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design-system

Want a more mature design org? Deploy a design system.

Shaun Wortis, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

At Pega, we believe that in addition to creating differentiated experiences for our clients and end users, we have a responsibility to encourage clients’ organizations to adopt design thinking and pursue a higher level of design maturity.

Design maturity is a sequence of developmental stages that organizations pass through, characterized by the level of design thinking – or iterative process of generating solutions via exploring user needs and challenging assumptions. As organizations embrace design thinking, the design team’s role begins to evolve within the organization.

At the lower levels of design maturity, design teams focus on topical efforts – such as adding a visual layer on top of already developed software; but designers aren’t deeply involved in the actual development process. At the middle stages, design teams begin to talk to users and focus on moving the needle on usability, increasing the role of design in product development. In the latter stages, the broader organization begins to embrace a user-centered design and development process, culminating in the final stage, where users have direct influence on a company’s strategy, and the company truly prioritizes creating a great experience for its customers in everything that it does.

Moving up the stages of design maturity may take, frankly, decades; but as design teams, we are uniquely empowered to advocate for a better user experience – and our approach and solutions will help you advocate for design thinking in your own organization.

“Small” design decisions add up

In real-life design, there are multiple ways to solve a problem. Here’s a simple example: Think of a standard “next” button and where it might appear in a modal. Companies have different solutions: Early on, a key industry player put the button on the bottom right of the modal – arguing that if the user is right-handed, that’s where they would turn the page, translating in a more natural flow according to the way that most people read. But another company might put the same button on the bottom center of the modal, arguing that a more natural flow is reading downward and then “turning the page.” Yet a third company may decide that left-aligned placement works better, especially when key information or input appears at the top, leading to a more direct reading flow. Any of these solutions may work and could solve the issue of the button being obvious. The issue of consistency is also solved, and the user will know where to go.

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Decisions like where to position buttons on a modal can affect the overall look, feel, and flow of a page.

You might be thinking: “But button placement on one modal is a small decision in the context of a large application, and we can easily test our options!” And while you may be right – adding a button is not moving mountains or creating infrastructure – decisions like these can have huge consequences on the look, feel, page flow, and overall user perception of your enterprise application.

While it may seem small in the context of the whole organization’s design strategy, many such decisions really add up when it comes to team time, brainpower, and implementation resources. That’s because in a large organization, multiple teams would need to align on the button placement in the first place. They’d need to document it properly, train their designers, run the tests, keep developers in the loop, and scale the work – or they’ll be operating in silos and the whole application experience would suffer from inconsistency, leading to confused users, slower outcomes, and potentially negative brand perception.

And in any case, your organization doesn’t have three extra weeks to coordinate and evaluate button placement. You want to be talking about what’s actually in the modal!

Design systems create the space for strategic decision-making

Design systems like Pega Cosmos allow your organization to think more deeply about user experience by eliminating large amounts of organizational time typically spent on problems that may or may not yield a direct outcome for your business.

In 1957, historian and time management scholar C. Northcote Parkinson argued that organizations tend to give disproportionate weight of discussion and analysis to trivial concerns – a notion that subsequently became known as the Law of Triviality: While there are many ways to solve problems, groups of people can get stuck discussing the ones that are perceived as “easiest” to solve. In other words, when faced with a large challenge – such as building an enterprise application with robust user experience principles – we’re apt to get stuck on discussing the details and miss the bigger picture.

Design systems like Pega Cosmos help teams overcome this. The decision about button placement (and many other tried-and-tested solutions) has already been made and tested with users and other clients. With that problem out of the way, your team can focus on a much deeper UX: workflow; who sees what data and when in a process; and what should they do with that data. All things directly pertaining to your user’s needs and your business’ goals.

Design systems support user-driven thinking in fast-moving organizations

When design teams use pre-tested solutions for problems like button placement, designers can focus on the deeper needs of your specific user. They might consider where the summary data lives within the application, or what visual metaphors best represent your customer’s cases in the specific context of their journey through your application.

And with topical decisions out of the way, designers are free to think more about users in general: Who are they? What data do users need to see to be effective at their jobs? When does that data appear in the process? What should they do with that data? Those are questions that design teams may not have prioritized immediately if they were also facing the challenge of building an enterprise application from scratch.

Not every design system is equal

We argue that a design system like Pega Cosmos – focused entirely on productivity and efficiency of users of case-management applications – will garner the better business outcomes for case management applications, such as what we build on the Pega Platform.

Design systems deploy best practices to support building quickly while thinking deeper

Building an effective application is no easy task – the speed of design and development greatly impacts the quality of your business results. When teams use a design system built specifically for enterprise, they’re capitalizing upon design best practices that have already proved to be effective in showing users contextual information alongside the most effective visual decisions to present information, such as information for forms and navigation.

The practices embedded in the design system will allow your team to build quickly while focusing on the deep thinking of the specificity of user needs within your business.

Design systems support a Center-out™ business architecture

At Pega, we believe that a center-out business architecture is the way of structuring your technology around the outcomes you want to achieve for your business and for your customers. That means, instead of trapping data in your mobile app or website’s embedded logic at the top of your stack, or creating databases and complex systems at the bottom of your stack that don’t reflect your customer’s journey, you should focus your attention to the center of your business architecture – where your customer and their needs live.

The Pega Cosmos design system is a huge part of center-out: it’s designed to operate across channels and supporting technologies by directing your users to focus on solving customers’ needs with as much context as possible – such as more easily resolving a billing inquiry or submitting a loan application.

Design systems support the design thinking that helps you ultimately build a better product for your customers, one that better represents your customers’ actual needs, flows, and experiences.

And in doing so, you’re empowering your own organization to the next level of its design maturity and commitment to the people it serves.

Learn more:

Our complete library of UX/UI patterns and components

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Challenge: Intelligent Automation Industry: Cross-Industry Topic: UX and Design

About the Author

Shaun Wortis, senior director of user experience, leads the product experience group at Pega