Design Systems, Not Stuff

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s” – William Blake

I spend a lot of time analyzing where brands are with “digital.”  Not surprisingly, I hear a lot of the same complaints.

Our current website is:
A) Embarrassingly out of date and I don’t want to drive traffic there.
B) Not flexible enough to support my current campaign
C) Not able to be affected quickly because of politics and the bureaucracy of our IT organization
D) All of the Above (Eeeeekk)

To me, these are simply symptoms of a large problem affecting a lot of large brands:  Lack of system based thinking.  But let’s be clear, this isn’t a surprising reality given how new to digital most brands are.

What is System-based thinking?

Systems-based thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another.  Then drawing on that knowledge to create efficiencies of process, infrastructure and communication.

You start by identifying the types of digital activities your brand works on in a year. Then, working with all players involved you can create partnerships, invest in IT infrastructure, document repeatable process and provide transferable understanding between your team, your IT organization and your external partners.

By thinking this way, as opposed to shining the object of the moment, brands can become more nimble as they execute on tactics that have high value to consumers.

Renting vs. Owning

Consider the return on investment equation when evaluating partnerships that involve use of someone else’s technical infrastructure.  “Build vs. Buy?” is a legitimate question, especially if the functionality offered is closely tied to your brand and therefore likely to be used again.

Often, partnership is legitimately the way to go. That said, be aware that often the user experience is then dictated not by your brand, but by your technical partner – whose strength is often NOT in marketing communication or usability.  I have seen many a vendor sales pitch ultimately end in sad brand managers when they see the lack of flexibility their campaign inherited as a result of partnership.

Content Management is a must

A Content Management System (CMS) is the implementation of technology that supports the collection, management and publishing of assets that feeds into owned digital properties.

I don’t see many projects where recommending a content management system doesn’t make sense.  It just kills me to see clients pay for developers to make grammatical tweaks to copy or swap out coupon images.  But unfortunately the CMS conversation often happens too late in the game, and although all players agree it is ideal to have – is often cut from scope.  So, how much are you paying for content tweaks you could have your interns do if things were setup properly?

Improve the User Experience of working on your brand

Is getting anything done in your marketing organization feel like pulling teeth?  Are your employees tearing their hair out in frustration of not being able to quickly and effectively implement their bright ideas?

Put your foot down.  Document how you work, look for improvements and operational efficiencies wherever you can.  Make it easier to work on your brand, and your staff can go back to moving that needle, not bitching about IT.

In short, you must: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

  • Reduce the complexity of executing on models created to support your brands marketing initiatives
  • Reuse technological investment across campaigns, building an arsenal of owned solutions over time
  • Recycle your “stuff”.  Don’t just leave promotional content out there to fade out and get lost in the tumbleweeds.  Think about how it will be gracefully retired or reformulated.  Always think about the lifecycle of the “stuff” your systems are producing.

Thanks for reading.

This post is the 5th of a series, starting with a list of 10 nuggets of UX wisdom for the Ad world.

Next up: Aim to be listened to, not just heard.