Living Design Systems

On Thursday 17th March Jina Bolton, a Salesforce Lead Designer, gave a presentation about Living Design Systems at the first Thames Valley Salesforce Developers meetup in Reading, UK.

The fact that it was a presentation for a Salesforce Developers group didn’t make it useless for Admins. It contained a lot of useful information for both. Developers can learn what Design Systems are all about, what benefits they bring and how to efficiently work with them. Admins can learn about important things that you need to pay attention at when working on projects that don’t stop shortly after the go live date, projects with multiple phases. Lightning Experience is one of such projects.

Within the last year we have all seen many Lightning Experience changes. And many more changes are still going to happen. New Lightning Experience looks impressive and very different from what we saw before. Due to the number of products (Sales, Service, Marketing, etc.), apps, multiple platforms and devices Salesforce is used on, working on Lightning Experience has not been an easy task. What we see today is a result of hard work of many people.

Nowadays many companies work on creating internal and external applications. Most of these applications have a goal of resolving certain problems or improving processes. They are based on good ideas. When they are first released, they look neat and seem to work well. They even get good original reviews. But some of these apps stop being useful after a relatively short period of time, even though the ideas behind them are still valid. Design issues are one of the common problems which can affect both functionality and user adoption. And it can be prevented by using Design Systems – a new ‘living’ generation of Style Guides.

It has been known for a long time that when it comes to creating a system or an app, style guides are essential. Style Guides provide interface maintenance guidance and contain rules that allow updating a system or an application without losing its beauty. In its essence style guides are documentation and it is important to keep them current so that they remain useful. Back in 2008 Jina published a great article on this subject.

But how to keep them up-to-date for solutions and apps that are constantly changing? The best way to do it is to update them together with your systems and applications and not ‘at some point after when there are no other tasks left’. That’s when Style Guides become ‘living’ and turn into Design Systems. Developers usually automate updates to their work and Design Systems can become a part of these automated updates (a part of the build).

So where do Admins step in? In this blog post when I say ‘Admins’, I mean non-Developers.

A long-term ‘living’ project cannot be successful without Admins contribution. Admins gather requirements and confirm processes, evaluate solutions, complete button-click configuration changes and pass coding requirements to developers. Once the work is completed they also look after user training and adoption and act as the first line of support for reported issues. It means Admins need to have a high level understanding of what can cause problems after a solution/application/system has been delivered. It will help prevent some of the issues before they occur and simplify certain aspects of their work.

By using Lightning Experience as an example we can learn from Jina Bolton and Salesforce how to do things right. Lightning Experience has been built using a Lightning Design System, a ‘living’ style guide, a product that Salesforce uses when creating, maintaining and updating other products.

Here are some key points that both Admins and Developers need to pay attention to when creating new systems/apps:

  • Consider the whole ecosystem – different companies use various Solutions and Apps on different platforms, they change configuration and enhance it with custom code. When adding new functionalities or changing existing ones it is important to ensure they are going to work as intended.
  • Plan with a roadmap – understand business goals and requirements and plan accordingly
  • Do user research before starting
  • Constant communication is essential
  • Have a clear vision to align efforts
  • List tasks in priority order
  • Bring the teams around a single goal
  • Don’t make it until people need it
  • Support adoption through education and consultation
  • Show the impact through examples and metrics

Jina Bolton advises design decisions to be driven by the following principles:

  • Clarity – be clear, eliminate a possibility of multiple interpretations, allow people to easily understand what they see
  • Efficiency – optimise workflows to help people work better, smarter and faster
  • Consistency – be consistent, familiarity will save time and strengthen adoption
  • Beauty – elegant, solutions that are easy to work with will often get a much better level of adoption

If we think about it, it is not just design decisions that should be driven by these principles, but the whole process of work of both Admins and Developers. After all, we are in this together and the better we collaborate, communicate and help each other, the more successful our projects are going to be.


Many thanks to @Jina for a great presentation!

Original presentation by Jina Bolton: “Living Design Systems





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