In 2018 I landed my first User Experience role at Comarch – a leading Polish software house. The company provides more 300 products for sectors such as IoT, Telecommunication, Financial Services, Enterprise and Public Sector Solutions. A lot of which have been developed organically since the early nineties. Design itself was a relatively fresh concept for the organisation – in the past, only software engineers and business analysts were responsible for the research and development of new solutions. There was a lack of consistency in the process, technologies used and approach. Designers were scattered around the 5k+ organisation, and there was little internal communication between the rapidly growing design community.
With the company starting to gain design maturity and size, I was hired to work alongside the Chief Creative Officer in a newly formed Central Design Unit, which role was to create and execute the Design Standard for Comarch.
Setting the foundations
Since the projects within the organisation varied diametrically in scope, technologies used and the level of design competence between different sectors and product teams, the central assumption behind creating the new Design Standard was to embrace a bottom-up approach. Having that in mind, deploying a design system without taking into consideration context-specific issues, differences and building it without relation to the existing and new software was not an option.
The concept was to expand the design system gradually, to have it grounded in real products and business cases. Therefore, I worked alongside different product teams to audit, document good and bad practices, to get a general sense of the state of design and the needs of designers within the organisation.
The first project I was working on was a new cloud service, more specifically, Comarch Loyalty Cloud used, among others by BP. Given this project’s complexity, scope and the design maturity of the sector developing it, it was a perfect starting point for creating the initial UI component library which set the foundations for further development of the Comarch Design System.
I have settled the general look and feel and built basic symbol library in Sketch but, how to make that into fully prospering Design System to be used by designers and developers around throughout the whole 5k+ organisation?
At this point, I needed to do more research on design systems. I’ve read books such as Alla Kholmatova’s Design Systems or Brad Frost’s Atomic Design and tons of medium and other blog posts on design systems (Airbnb’s design blog proved a very insightful resource). Most importantly at this stage, I was benchmarking publicly available design systems, testing them out, comparing them, looking for useful patterns and nuances. Amongst the most influential were Google’s Material Design, IBM’s Carbon Design, Alibaba’s Ant Design or Bulb’s Solar (excellent research insights).
I regularly participated in meetings with design leaders across Comarch, who collected opinions, problems and suggestions to improve the design system. As we all treated the Design Standard as a living and continually evolving entity, one of the biggest challenges was to establish a shared design vocabulary and develop efficient procedures guiding the way what new elements are added to the standard.
It’s important to remember that the Design System is more a crucial tool not only for designers but also for front end developers. Throughout the whole process, I closely worked with a specially dedicated development team, consulting them on technical terms.
Structuring the library
Initially, I was planning to structure the symbol library according to the Atomic Design principles and naming. What came out from consultations with designers and front-end devs across the company, was that the language of atoms, molecules etc. was neither comprehensible nor intuitive. The naming of elements was based, on the language used most commonly within the organisation. It was a very long and complicated process, but thankfully there’s some fantastic sketch plug-ins such Symbols Manager.
Testing on real cases
The second project I worked on (parallel to the library), with the intention of testing out the Design System was an internal project management software. This time, it was a highly specialised system with a limited scope and full of non-standard components. Since it was a software commonly used throughout the company for many years, the number of changes we could apply was very limited and mostly on the cosmetic layer. Neither less it was a great occasion to test the initial symbol library in practice.
Distributing the design system
We developed a website for the Design Standard along with distributing and updating the design system through Sketch Cloud. Besides that, the design system was published via Zeplin, inviting stakeholders to comment on the library.