I worked with Farfetch to investigate building a global design system in the lead up to their IPO. Initially, my remit was to assess the value and feasibility of implementing such a system. Once this was established, I was given responsibility for leading the strategy to define what that design system should be and provide support up to implementation.
“Bryn is diligent and logical, bringing structure to everything he touches. When a project gets technical and complex he really comes into his own with an ability to distill abstract requirements into a tangible plan. His contribution to this project was invaluable.”
When I joined Farfetch they had been creating digital products for over ten years. During this period, teams multiplied in size exponentially and spread across the world, which presented a challenging environment and was not conducive with close collaboration. As a result of this, products had become inconsistent and of a lower quality, yet the cost per release cycle was increasing.
My responsibility was to identify causes, define a strategy and solution, and form a cross-functional centralised team.
Design System Site
The culmination of my work at Farfetch led to the design, build, and launch of the first version of a company-wide design system.
I worked closely with the principal designers and creative directors to create a design system that was composed of styles, components, guides, and patterns.
Before commitment was made to build a design system, I produced a robust valuation of what the company stood to gain from doing so. I went on to publish my methodology as both an article for UX collective, and as a presentation which was delivered at several conferences.
I delivered a comprehensive feasibility assessment (inclusive of risk profiles) based on a deep exploration of current practice that was cross-referenced with the journeys of many other organisations.
I delivered a suite of artefacts and presentations on the rationale for creating a design system. These were specifically tailored to address four key audiences: designers, developers, product managers, and business stakeholders.
My strategy aimed to incorporate and leverage work already completed in this field in order to enable faster delivery, garner support from those already advocating this approach, and make adoption less complex.
A primary deliverable was to define what should and should not be included in the design system both initially and ultimately. For each item, I also had to clearly define and agree the definition to limit miscommunication.
I delivered an adoption strategy that offered a flexibility and choice to the product teams with a view to achieve full alignment within twelve months.
I was responsible for defining the operational strategy, contribution process, and management of the design system. This included constructing a dedicated team and building specific lenses on a core repository for different audiences.
I delivered an objective-based roadmap for the design systems team to deliver against. This included setting clear goals for all internal teams, and a plan to make it available to external teams.
After completing research, design, planning, and validation, I had to pitch the solution and approach to the senior leadership team before executing.
My final deliverable was a comprehensive write up of the entire process, plan, and valuation to allow investors to better understand the operational strategy.
Analyse Current State
It was necessary to analyse the current state of the company’s design and production, and this led me to ask the following key questions: Was the company making the best products possible? Was the company delivering a consistent experience? Were products being made as efficiently as possible? Were the company’s values embodied throughout the design and production process? Did people in the product design, development and management community know of Farfetch and if so, did they view the company as a desirable place to work?
Research during this phase included the following activities: interviewing, shadowing, surveying, design auditing, technical auditing, stakeholder mapping, and benchmarking.
Following an investigation into the current state, I determined to define and create a system, process or product with the objective to deliver continual improvement to the following:
- Consistency of products and practices.
- Efficiency of delivery.
- Quality of output.
- Impact of outcomes.
- Perception both internally and externally.
Once we had a clear objective, I set about exploring how best to systemise an approach to the Farfetch product development lifecycle. After validating that a design system could indeed be appropriate in the current state analysis I looked to answer:
- Who would be a user of the design system?
- What would the users need to make this system useful?
- How would the design system affect or integrate with their current workflow?
- What is the current level of knowledge and awareness around design systems?
- Are there any existing efforts to systemise the product development process?
- What would have highest impact:effort ratio?
- How would we achieve buy in from all key stakeholders?
- How would we garner support and adoption?
- What are the risks and requisites?
Research during this phase included: interview, shadowing analysis (from previous research), workshops, affinity mapping, needs analysis, trend mapping, and champion identification.
Based on the problems identified in the current state analysis, the goals agreed in the objective response, and the needs identified in discovery, I outlined what I believed would be core requirements in creating a successful solution e.g. continually capture research, knowledge, and improvements made from all role types across all products and platforms.
The approach gave abstracted requirements for creating a solution that exists independently from how it should be approached logistically. To give this meaningful value I then outline what needed to happen logistically to bring a solution to fruition e.g. Build a design system explorer in a publicly available location that is separate from our current digital estate and able to exist without dependency on it.
Considering the different information, artefacts, and resources, as well as who would typically want access to them, I proposed a content outline and minimum viable product.
The content outline went through several iterations, informed by tree testing that was completed by individuals who would ultimately be using the design system. I scrutinised the content outline from the perspective of different user types, through the use of content specific user needs statements and task scenarios captured from earlier interviews and shadowing sessions.
To implement the design system, a number of people and processes needed to be in place. It also required buy-in from a range of teams and to increase awareness with potential end users. To address these issues, I organised a roadshow of my research and proposal. Following the success of this, I constructed a dedicated team using a blend of current employees and new hires.
Design and Build
Once I had the initial team in place, we designed and built the first version of the global design system. I functioned as the lead designer until this point.
Prior to my departure, the team and I put together a roadmap based on what we had learned with a specific focus on future goals and outcomes. The new product manager was then responsible for translating this roadmap into a timeline, features and deliverables.
- Support on the ground is more important than support from above.
- For maximum efficiency you need design, development and product buy-in.
- If you can’t get total buy-in, you can still achieve localised efficiency e.g. Design only UI Kits.
- Not everyone has the same idea of what a design system is or should be.
- Not everyone values the same thing so, strong product management is required.
- The support of a dedicated team around you is a nice-to-have.
- A design system has most utility when a user specific lens is applied.
- Given how embedded a design system becomes, it’s worth completing the upfront research.
Efficiency. Quality. Satisfaction.
Better quality products, delivered faster by less frustrated employees.
- Improved product quality (up 30%) with faster delivery.
- Actualised yearly saving over £11MM.
- Employee satisfaction up 22%.