S2E6 – Design Systems and Design Languages

Design Systems is the bridge between professions which most important role is to be the foundation of creating a culture. This is one of the new enlightenments I got out of listening to John Bevan talking about his Passion for Design Systems.

If you want to have a clear brand, but at the same time, want to build products fast, and with a consistent designs and experiences, then this episode is just for your. And even though we talk about this from the perspective of big companies, then most of this also works for small companies as well.

This talk was inspireing and educational like nothing else. Take a listen yourself.


In this episode you will learn:

  • What is a Design System, and what is a Design Language.
  • Design systems will help desingners think more systematic
  • Design systems help you create consistent experiences.
  • Why it the most important thing about Design Systems is to build a Design Culture.
  • And many more.


John Bevan on LinkedIn

The Design System Podcast (Its amazing and you should listen)


Martin Whiskin 0:02
You’re listening to hidden by design a podcast about the stuff that you didn’t know about design. My name is Martin and this is

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:10
Hidden by design?

Martin Whiskin 0:11
Nailed it.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:12
Oh yeah, and my main thing is to know the podcast starts

Martin Whiskin 0:18
and we should start recording now

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:20
you’re not recording ?

Welcome to hidden by Design. Today we’re going to talk about design systems and design languages. And you know, before we introduce because today we have a guest, which we are going to interview. But before we introduce our secret guests, then I think Martin your, your moment to shine again with the quote. And

Martin Whiskin 0:46
this is really important because I might have zero other input for the rest of the episode.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:53
Make sure make it make it count.

Martin Whiskin 0:56
So the quote of the day for episode six of season two is styles come and go. Good design is a language, not a style. And that is by Thorbjørn. Massimo Vignelli an Italian designer.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:15
Oh, you said that nice. All right. So so with us today in in the UK, where are you today? John?

John Bevan 1:26
I am just outside London country London.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:29
All right. So so

John Bevan 1:31
Which is in the UK, yes! And not Canada!

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:38
We have with us creative and strategic director, user experience expert user interface expert human machine interface, Argumented at reality virtual reality. So many things, John, I was I was looking at this. Who is this? This man, this expert, but I think on all of that.

John Bevan 2:03
Its been a journey!

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:04
Exactly. You have the end of that list is designed systems. And we worked together on design system in on other projects. You work with, you know, American Express, Grundfos, Volvo British Airways, the BBC is like so many also high profile things. So, I think that that means that you must know a little bit about what you’re working with what you’re doing, which is, which is, yeah, have massive about. So it’s like it was kind of overwhelming for me to try to. And it’s like a a bit of a impact on myself my confidence. Look at such an impressive CV.

John Bevan 2:50
Im flattered, Thank you very much. haha It’s great to be on the show.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:54

John Bevan 2:55
No pressure, no pressure.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:59
So we are gathered here today to talk about the system, or the the topic of design systems and design languages. And I guess I’m just gonna throw you straight under the bus, John. And ask you what is a design system? And so think about it this way. So Martin doesn’t know anything about design systems. So he’s completely new.

John Bevan 3:23
You know, I would go back to the first time I heard the word design system, back in the dark ages of my career, some years back. And I remember asking myself that same question. And just being flooded by this turn of words, components, patterns, foundations, frameworks. And design systems have this like weird I remember thinking then there’s this weird kind of schizophrenic love child of developers and designers, where developers have tried to be creative in their thinking. And designers have tried to think more systematically like developers. And so you’ve got all of these ideas kind of meshed together. And I remember just feeling overwhelmed. The first time I I saw all of the writing all of the topics around science systems, and of course, now there’s conferences, there’s groups, there’s courses, I think, even on design systems, because it’s such a broad domain. What’s actually underneath all of that, I think, as soon as I started to understand and think of it all more on the system’s side than design, it all starts to make sense. And I think to understand design systems, you have to understand or you have to be willing to go into understanding systems and systems thinking and what makes up a system and a process and how the systems support, team, people organizations in doing things better. Because I think that’s the part of design systems that folks find quite difficult to access or to understand, you go into it as a designer, and you’re, you’re greeted with a lot of thinking and ideas that is not conventional to you as a designer. It’s not it’s not creative. It’s very method about method. It’s it’s very technical, actually. But fundamentally, I think the design system is a way of introducing systems concepts, to designers and trying to structure the way designers and developers think, to obviously benefit the collaboration between designers and developers. But it’s a bit of a backdoor way of pushing systems thinkers, onto creatives, I think. And of course, it’s had a lot of value, because there were a lot of system breakages in creative departments of businesses. And so they saw a need to try and fix that. That process problem. And of course, putting, putting a design system in place has helped but the bottom of it, it’s basically a set of systems and those systems are made up of physical assets, your components, your libraries, but they’re also made up of the rules and the structures around how to apply those assets. And it’s the second part, that’s probably more important. Of course, lots of organizations had libraries, brand libraries, assets, etc. And guidelines around those, but they didn’t have the systems to apply them digitally. That’s where the design system grew up, how do I apply my brand in the digital domain? So it’s the system? How do I how do I systematize the way I do design and apply design? That’s really where the design system came from. But it’s it. I think lots of people have been on this journey. I’m not the only one. The same answer the same question and be quite confounded by it. Because system thinking is not a muscle that you’re expected to develop, particularly in the UX UI, certainly not in the visual design or the graphical design domain. Of course, in development. Yes. So it’s, it probably started from a slightly alien place for the creative folk. And that’s one many struggle to answer that question, I think, or at least understand how to approach design systems.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 7:33
So what you’re saying is a design system starts in typically in engineering, or

John Bevan 7:41
I think it starts based upon problems that are witnessed and discovered in engineering departments and engineering, I would encompass development, as well as architecture behind that, everything to do with presenting the technology of an experience, I think that’s where you see the symptoms of not having a design system. I don’t think designers typically are the ones that start up design systems, that tend to be developers, but it is made up probably more of design than it is of engineering, and it’s a bridge really bridges, this the construction of the bridge starts from the development side of the river, and it it then meets probably the design side starts building and it meets closer to the development side than to the design side of the river of systems

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 8:46
that’s interesting, like so yeah. So, so, you have a design system, you mentioned brand and marketing as one player and development and then in that sandwich is the design department who is then so so and then you say components you say a lot of things there. So what’s the what’s the difference between the design system and the style guide for example, from brand and marketing when it comes to like because lots

John Bevan 9:17
of additional words basically technical words like components and elements and patterns and frameworks and design ops, which I would consider it to be part of the system of design, a design system, a style guide, really, I mean, the style guide was fit for the non digital age. And if the if the business evolved from a bricks and mortar business, into digital, typically a style guide got carried over from a brand team, and to some extent, you can use your style guide to interpret your color, your identity The basic building blocks of brand fonts, etc, you can use the style guide to interpret a lot of the digital experience, you then find UX struggles and the whole domain of UX obviously grew up in in parallel with the domain of design systems growing up, suddenly, you found UX problems in that digital experience that you couldn’t quantify or govern, purely with a visual style guide. So examples of that are a form in one customer journey, being different to a form for the same journey, but on another channel. So classic examples being your airline booking form, and your airline booking journey, your login journey, your signup journey. And you would see differences, even if you provided the same design to development, you would see differences in how they were realized on the front end, which for the business creates consistency problems in the brand, it creates coherency problems for the customer, the journey is different, they having to relearn the same pattern twice. And it creates financial challenges in terms of the cost to maintain and operate all of those differences where you want one solution. So the style guide was limited in its ability to control and manage all of those moving parts. So style guides started to be extended with technical material documentation, what we would call patterns, which is how to present a journey through a sequence of steps, not just the components on one of those steps. And then the the system part of it went even further. And that is to introduce ways processes, structures, methods, by which design should be handed over to development, by which design should be implemented characteristics of the design, things that should govern, for example, interaction. So interaction is a much more nuanced characteristic than say, a visual, a color or a font, what should I feel, as I interact, as I download this app and interact with it, what should I feel at the end of this booking journey, whatever, what what is the emotional path, I go down, and you can systematize some of those elements, you can capture some of the characteristics that you want to exhibit, and then build those into the way designers and developers think. So that’s where the system part, expanded upon style guides. But of course, systems are also difficult to regulate. And that’s why design systems and design language always have this conflict is always a challenge between trying to manage every single part of an experience versus allowing emotion, flexibility character to shine through. So some style guides do a better job than the design systems that have been built around them, or actually conveying the experience that they want to create. But that’s, that’s fundamentally, I think, the difference between the two. But again, design systems is also a very broad word, and that you could go to 10 Different organizations to inspect their design systems, and you would see 100 different variants. In fact, you would go to many organizations, and you would find five design systems under the same roof of because Because everyone’s had to, you know, businesses are very broad churches as well. And big organizations have to kind of manage the parts of the experience they’re looking after. So that means they will interpret the guidelines a little bit differently for their customers. That’s a big challenge with design systems is how do you create? How do you systematize human behavior? That’s extremely difficult to do, you know, you can big organization with with different types of customers, they buy and they think very differently. So how do you create a systematic approach to serve all of them equally? Well,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 14:21
that’s, that’s really like, so I think it goes back to what you said, consistency. And, you know, in previous episodes, we kind of covered that, if you want to make intuitive design or design that’s really emotionally engaging for a customer consistency is kind of one of the key components of that. And so if you really, really, really want to make good design systematizing you know, how you present your interfaces and solve your problems is, I guess, very, very important. So just let me just try to summarize or Can I kind of cook it down? And, and then you correct me if I misunderstood some of the things because so in reality of just like what design system is, is a bridge, and a framework to create, say, a bridge between marketing, a design department, and development slash engineering, so that all three parts and the whole of the business, create a consistent, consistent experience for the user and thereby creating, you know, an emotional connection and consistent design and usable and intuitive kind of experience all through your application. And

John Bevan 15:52
I think that the bridge is the base, the base of it, it’s the most basic thing that must be present for design system and must bring collaboration between technical creative brandmark, and all the actors you describe, but that alone does not make an effective design system, the effectiveness comes from the culture that you try to create around the system of design. That’s why I say for me, design system is it tends to become, it can be interpreted in a very dry, technical sense of purely building a library of assets and a system to get those assets into production. And that that’s why you’ll see that a lot of design systems have now started to evolve in their language to more like experience, systems experience languages, because that, that Miss comprehension actually undermined what a good design system should be doing, which is to build a culture of systematic practice around how you do design, a culture of deep understanding between user designer, developer, a product manager, that system should encompass everything to do with an experience, how is an experience conceived? represented? How do you empathize with the customer? All the different types of customers to get their experience? Correct. So it goes much bigger than that bridge, because the bridge is the basic thing you must have, but it becomes more universe, I would say which that bridge is, it’s like the it’s in the in the Thor films, right, this bridge to the bridge to the other universe, right? That is, that’s the kind of bridge we’re talking about here. It has to be something that that it’s fundamentally connects all the parts of the business, but it also without that bridge, you you cannot properly express the type of experience that you that you want.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 18:01
Yeah, so it’s kind of like the rainbow who leads to the

John Bevan 18:04

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 18:05
Bifrost Exactly.

So all right, so then I understand so we have the bridge is the foundation, it’s the technical kind of bridge between marketing, all of that stuff that happens there, then that bridge into designing and kind of, you know, creates a shared language of how do we do things? The the side effect of that, if it’s done, right, is a shared culture about how do we approach and understand our products? And how do we understand our customers? And how do we make them actually do what we want them to do on a, like, big scale scale is like a skill level and then the last buy effect like a you know, side effect of having that means increased productivity because you don’t have to sit and perhaps stupid arguments about you know, different things because now everyone is aligned to take talk the same language they kind of it’s it’s the tower of Babylon, but without God kinda, you know, destroys.

John Bevan 19:17
I think at the at the basic level, it sets some guardrails, that it’s a decision making framework. Yes, it sets guardrails for common decisions that therefore lead to a systematic way of making decisions. So how should I design this form? Okay, I follow guidance. Therefore, every form that gets delivered, has been systematized and we’ve minimized the chance of an inconsistency being introduced. When you get all the basics in place and you’re very good at this and you’re an organization with a very powerful, very broad design system then, the system part that you focus on is the systematizing of the design culture, so you focus upon getting everyone thinking the same way and trying to exhibit a craft the characteristics of the brand the same way, that’s a much more intangible thing to grasp, or to be able to explain how to do it or to be able to replicate it. But there what you’re doing, and I can give you examples, if you think of some of the great brands, you can immediately understand the character of the experience that they’re trying to create. And that is just a thread that is a DNA that runs through that business. And it’s the culture of how they do design, how they think about the experience, that can also be systematized and design system, but you’re talking there, the very, very, very best, that kind of 0.1, maybe maximum 1%. So I call it, it’s, for me, it’s a bit like a pyramid, you know, you kind of start at the bottom, you’ve got to get the hygiene stuff, right, build the bridge, and then you ramp up that pyramid to starting to systematize. You know, the process is the structures, the teams, the operations, and then right at the peak of it is you actually start to systematize the culture. So you’ve highly optimized the design culture, and you have ways of keeping that constantly refreshed and constantly performing. That’s very hard to manage control. And typically businesses sustain that for some time, and then it and then it drifts, and then new characters come in, etc. So all of that for me is the design system. It’s that whole pyramid from fundamentals, component level, right up to how do you how do you structure the entire design culture of a massive organization design system should be considering all of those aspects?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 21:46
And so I guess just for for, for martin, or any listener who don’t know what a component is? A, I guess,

John Bevan 21:54
to answer the question,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 21:57
like, so am I right? If I say a component can be a button, and a specification for how the button should look, feel and react when you interact with it in your application, but also, what possibilities that it can open and make available to the user and how and when it should be used. So you have

John Bevan 22:18
absolutely and the critical thing with the component is that the the production version of the component, so what is experienced by the user by the customer, is connect to the design version of the component. Right. And this is, might seem an obvious thing to say, but this is where 99% of struggle around design systems and organization exists, is design. You know, as I said, it’s that bridge again, development triggered the process of creating design systems to respond to product teams and marketing teams saying we’ve got inconsistencies. So there’s, so they asked design, please help us create this consistency. And for some time, that kind of bridge started to be built. But in many cases, the middle part that bridge never really connects. And so design has a utopian library of how a brand should exist. That is basically a style guide. Development has a legacy, lots of legacy challenges, where the component in production resembles nothing like the component in design. And even if visually, it’s the same, maybe the interaction is incorrect. Maybe the sequence of the journey is not correct. So absolutely the component is the building block, provided that component is live a component that that is ideally, completely synchronized from the design file the design object through to the implementation of it, the behavior of it in production. Yes. And that component obviously becomes more and more complex, the more variants of it, you have the more nested components make up like a form, I always go back to forms. Because

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 24:03

John Bevan 24:03
I tell you, in every organization forms are, are the biggest challenge between design and development, the number of forms that organizations have to manage nowadays, is is gross. It’s absolutely massive. And there’s always component challenges around it, you know, the form looks different, or the data goes through different place. Or you ask the same, you’re doing the same task signing up logging in, but you call it different things. login on this form, sign sign in on that form. And that’s where you see those where you’re combining components into patterns. That’s where the complexity and the management the systematizing the complexity that’s where it really becomes powerful and important.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 24:46
Yeah, there’s like that login sign in thing I’ve seen that so many. It’s like I made it myself. That mistake. I’m really good at coming up with strange words. I need design systems.

John Bevan 25:01
Yeah, that’s where that’s where systems, that’s where the system thinking helps, right? Eliminate inconsistency eliminate deviation or incoherency.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 25:20
So, Martin, I have a quick question for you actually, in your job as a, as a voice actor, and and working for companies, have you ever? Like, have you ever encountered anything like a design system or somewhere where they say, well, it has to fit our brand or style, and therefore you need to stuff like that,

Martin Whiskin 25:40
I guess so. But it’s never framed like that, it will just be, you know, in the direction that I get in might say, you know, it has to sound I don’t know, friendly, but authoritative, which is our brand, you know, that sort of thing or not, is never put into something very formal.

John Bevan 25:59
But language, of course, language, I mean, we’ve worked Martin, you’ll be super familiar. Languages, of course, I mean, apart I always say apart from probably the human body and DNA language is the best example of a, of a system, a design system in operation that you could ever find. And you can look across different languages. Yeah, I think we have probably three different languages here. But you can of course, English, Danish, the Scandinavian languages, and you can see how one system triggered very different experiences through evolution, because the systems evolved in separate directions. But you can look at the syntax, the construction of sentences, and you can see the same underlying components, in many cases, the same words translated across different languages. And you can see the same construction of a sentence yet the experience and the language part of it at the end is quite quite different, right? But you can connect Danish back to German you can connect bits of Swedish back to English etc. So language be like DNA is a fantastic and fascinating design system to see what happens when a design system is left.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 27:15
You avoided saying that you avoided the English is basically just Danish because the Vikings kind of made that language

John Bevan 27:28
he was fascinating about English to me is that, that when you when you spend I spend all the time in Scandinavia. And they’re all of the languages make use of accents. Right? So yeah, everyone always says English is such a difficult language learning you go, why is that? You go? Well, it’s basically because we remove whatever reason at some point in time, a bunch of English folk just couldn’t be bothered with writing accents, right? Just incredible laziness. They just wanted to take out all the accents, who needs this stuff. So you can have the same word pronounced a dozen different ways, right? And you see all of all of the students of English trying to understand how you can have a word like, bow, spelled the same as through or throw, but yet, yeah, sounds totally different. Right now in Swedish or Danish, you would have the same spelling, but you would convey it through accents in English, we would just like, there are unnecessary, we don’t need any of those. So what’s happened there is someone broke the system. Basically, someone took out the the guidelines, the style guides from the system, right, they kept the components but throw away the style guides. And so it’s gone wild. And that’s why the same underlying you know, sentence structure exists. But the the end execution is totally different.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 28:49
And Danish and says like, it’s scandinavia, I guess. It’s like, it’s it’s how you say it. And I guess like I had a word where you could say it, depending on context and depending on where you put the pressure, it means like 10 or 20 different things. And the only thing I can come up with right now is is fly fucking which depending on context means different things.

John Bevan 29:19
Swedish is, full of this, right? I mean, the word yah, I unfathomable the number of different meanings. Oh, yeah, right. Yeah. Whether it’s yah, yah, yah, yah.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:31
It can be a question. It can be a state and it can be Yeah, it’s the same in Danish.

John Bevan 29:35
And that that again represents the difference between language and system. You can you can kind of introduce bits of both, but if one of them is left to rain at the cost of the other, then you end up with a very wild outcome.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 29:54
Right. Okay. Good. That’s a nice, so segway into design language. which is right. So we have designed system, you explained a little bit about languages now, like different languages. And so maybe we can take, like the directors like based on what we have right now the direct connection between, like all the differences between design systems and design languages when it comes to applic… like it, how is that applicable? And how do I see it as a designer in my day to day life? I guess? It’s a good question. I don’t? Yeah,

John Bevan 30:30
I think so you’re asking the difference between the two and how they how they work together? I think, well, I guess, I try to interpret it a bit, I think design language is is the creative side unchained. It’s what happens. If, again, in the language example we were talking about before, it’s what happens if natural human creativity is allowed to express itself and to explore unconstrained by system. So the language is just the expression of ideas, I think, whereas the system is trying to introduce process tame, that wildness, tame that chaos, into something that can be managed, which of course, if you’re an organization, and you need to, you can’t have design language running wild, you can’t be constantly evolving how you present yourself, you can’t be constantly managing different executions of ideas, you have to tame all of that to manage your costs and keep your consistency etc. So you have to introduce that system to manage the language. But I think what also happened in the process of design systems being adopted, is businesses organizations found themselves overcompensating for the previous design language challenges they had. And so what happened is, many organizations, particularly in the tech space engineering space, found that they had removed innovation, they would remove creative expression from the visual expression of the brand, the digital expression of the brand, because the design system was so heavily enforced, you ended up almost excluding the possibility of design language evolving, because you were trying to systematize and control and constrain everything.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 32:24
All right.

John Bevan 32:25
And that’s also a problem, right? Because that, that, that defeats the human part of the brand that no human buys something based upon the strength of the system, they buy it based on the strength of the expression, that example it connects people to a brand. So you have to find that, that that balance, right? So if I if I say to you, Ferrari, for example, you would, I would guess quickly jumped to things like fast, right. Okay. Some might say yellow, red, yellow fast, you’d say probably sculpted, it feels beautiful. Yeah, it’s a it’s a very stunning visual piece to look at. If I were to say to you, Rolls Royce, right? Probably use different words, you’re probably gonna go silver, black, you’re gonna go stately, you’re gonna go graceful. Right? This is design language, you could never systematize this you can try. But you you can’t sit you can’t build those things, you systemization that is just expression of creativity and ideas and the kind of consistent consistency about over time. So the design language is really an idea. And the human creative interpretation of it. The system is taming some of that wildness, you know, and you can look through generations Ferraris, and see that design language present. Some of them went to wild, right? They didn’t sell some of the word wild enough, they didn’t sell. So design language has to be tamed sometimes. But within limits, that’s what your design system tries to do.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 34:07
Alright, so design languages. Does it have any connection to tone and voice?

John Bevan 34:15
Yeah, absolutely.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 34:16
So So and, and, and just to make sure that there’s like the basic concept of tone and voices. The voice is like, off if a brand or a company is like your mother’s voice, you always hear that same voice. And the tone is, you know if your mom is angry, or happy. And so you can always hear the same voice but you can hear her tone in how she says it. And a company and a product have the same thing, right you can. So taking Ferrari as well. You go you know you you understand that speed and aggressiveness and All of that, and then, you know, the individual design kind of set the tone for what type of card is, I guess?

John Bevan 35:08
Yeah, and of course, if you’re running those businesses, then you want to put some, some systemization around that language. Because you know, that language is what effectively makes up what your business is and what people engage with. So you don’t want that to be diluted. You you learn from mistakes, where the design language was varied. You know, there’s lots of, you can look at design languages evolve over time. And you can see what I’d call dialects of a design language, where it deviates a bit from what the core was, but then it comes back and you kind of test the waters by by evolving slight variations on your design language. And your your system is built around that to try and always bring the best design language forwards. But it’s a it’s, it’s a very fine balance to do this. And I don’t think anyone ever gets it right. All of the time. I don’t think any, any businesses ever managed that. I mean, Apple did very well in terms of design language, and Systemising, that in product production, but it’s, it’s, you know, they had a large period of time where they failed as well, and they didn’t sell a lot of products. So, you know, it comes and goes depending on the culture of the business. But that’s that’s what you’re trying to do is allow the design language to express itself to evolve naturally through kind of human creativity, but systematize parts of it to make it less expensive to do that evolution and avoid wild variations or deviations that cost the brand or cost the business. So you enter into a fascinated domain. Right. So, which is why I spent many years working in this space. And I still don’t have the answers, right. And I’m not sure that any of us do. But it’s it’s a fascinating challenge to try and get the right balance of those things in businesses of different types. Yeah, organizations, not just businesses, any organization. Yeah.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 37:08
Yeah, so so so. So what you’re saying is, like big organizations don’t know how to do this. And it’s like, it’s, we probably never will, but we understand the problem that we’re trying to solve. So every step is taking in a right direction. But in the end, there will always be inconsistencies and difficulties and trying to get everything to work. I was like, one of the things I see here is that a lot of companies just create a complete design system slash experience system department by itself. To in order to control that, just like the Do you see that? Do you see that a lot? I just read about it? Because I don’t? I haven’t been in that many companies.

John Bevan 38:01
You mean building

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 38:04
a design system?

John Bevan 38:06
Around around design systems? Yeah, I mean, if you’re, if you’re running organizations of any size, right, you’ll, a lot of your primary concerns become about operational operational cost, and how to do to maximize the value streams, the revenue streams and minimize the operational cost. And one of the areas that you see at all of operational cost is fixing and designing consistency, fixing or having to maintain multiple platforms that should have the same components but have different components. So design systems appear, a fantastic idea. And typically, if you’re trying to create the case, for a design system, you your investment, your stakeholder argument will be well, we can help introduce greater consistency, greater coherency, we can reduce the cost to assemble things that cost operating. So of course, your funding of a design system is typically linked to the more systemization you can do. And that’s why I see over the past 10 years, let’s say the design systems have started to be built put in place, lots of them are very mature now. There has become a bit of a pushback or a bit of a shift towards this more experience, language this this blend trying to find this balance, because that overregulation, of course it for some cost benefits, but it also really diluted some of the innovation or some of the expressiveness of the brand. So you understand why, from a leadership point of view, you want to introduce these kind of systems, but you also have to, to find the balance to allow the creativity to shine through there. And I think there’s there’s one interesting point you touched on before which is about how do you define language and evolve? What I see there is most large organizations We’re or have inherited a founders vision. So at some point in time, there was a great character typically, or characters, family of characters that defined a business, right. And it came out of a family business or one person’s vision, etc, for the duration of the time that that that character is around the family is around, they are the design language, they are able to express it their vision in their mind, right? The difficulty comes when they’re no longer around, because now that’s up to interpretation. And you have lots of different characters with lots of different backgrounds, lots of diverse opinions interpreting it differently. And that’s where large organizations, I think, struggle with how to evolve a design language. Which way do you take it? Which parts of which parts of the expression are most important? What are the key words, etc. And so what happens then is you go, well, let’s just try and do the best practice, let’s try and systematize and try and do what the best players do. Because you can’t, you can’t agree on the language part. So you go, let’s at least agree on a system to try and preserve parts of the language. So then that’s when you can get a bit lost, I think, and many organizations have struggled with that, I think can continuing trying to evolve the essence of what they are. After, you know, the visionary part of it has moved on, which in most big organizations has happened.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 41:34
Argh, so okay, let me just so design systems. Let me try to see if I got this. Right, right. So design systems, that’s like a, that’s a system to kind of make a clear framework on mechanics, like, so it’s a mechanical system and a framework that makes sure that you don’t kind of break the rules. And then a design language is more of a feeling and an emotion about how to how do we express ourselves, you know, within these rules are outside of these rules. And so what do you so so for example, Disney, right, whenever you say, or, you know, Ferrari have any of this, like any brand. And as you said, in the beginning of where we talked about design languages, it gives you an emotion, it gives you a feeling, and that feeling is like is is the design can express that feeling. And, and so, alright, so what I understand is that, that to get and promote that feeling, you have to have some sort of, of emotional framework, rather than a technical framework that expresses, you know, how do we animate Mickey Mouse? Because his is? Yeah, yes,

John Bevan 43:04
I would, I would call it more of a cultural thing than a framework. But yes, I will, I would frame it like, take the car example, again, because I think it’s universally we can understand it. The exterior is the language. It’s the part that you see, first, that attracts you. And no amount of Systemising, the process of exterior design will lead to a more emotionally connecting exterior, I think it is just, you see it, and you go, wow, that connects with me. It’s beautiful. Yeah, visually, it triggers sentiments of, you know, good feelings towards the beauty of it. But underneath all of that are systems, right mechanics, things that make it you know, the drive train that makes it work the systems inside the vehicle, and you wouldn’t really consider buying the vehicle, the car, bus, train, whatever it is, if you didn’t feel you had both, right, but you have to have them both in balance, of course, some have a much stronger on the language side, some are much stronger on the system side. And so you, you have to find that kind of balance, but you need to have all of those things. Yes. And it’s it’s much more about the culture of the people creating it than just the framework, right? If you have a really diverse set of people designing your product, there’s a good chance that it’s very creative, and it has, it’s very expressive. If you have a very narrow group of either engineers or designers or whatever, then you tend to only come up with quite a narrow, narrowly expressing product. So that’s why I say framework is I choose the word, culture, more framework, because I think that’s what determines how good you are at balancing all of those factors.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 44:43
We are way over time.

John Bevan 44:51
I mean, I think I want you to get into this topic. Fascinating because design, sit the whole the whole systematizing of design, which is kind of being forced, in order to manage the cost of creative departments and manage the cost of, you know, assembling platforms and things, is, you know, there’s, it makes a lot of sense that there’s a value in it. But there is a, there’s also a big, big cultural challenge there and how to apply that at scale, and how to preserve the human qualities of what causes people to engage with design. It’s a fascinating, fascinating thing to understand the behavior that causes people to respond to design, and you realize ultimately, that you cannot systematized behavior, and it wouldn’t be desirable to try to. And therefore, you have to make selections and choices about the balance of language versus system, I think that determines your success. So it’s, it’s for me, very, very interesting. Domain and design systems are now starting to come into maturity. And that’s how we’re starting to now see the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches people have taken.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 46:04
Yeah, this is this is really is this just like, did you get everything Martin? You said in the beginning, you didn’t have much to, uh, you know, well,

Martin Whiskin 46:18
I will have to probably listen to this a few times, I think I was trying to come up with a summary

John Bevan 46:24
Cut whatever crap you want.

Martin Whiskin 46:27
I was, it’s just gonna be my intro. That’s all we’re releasing. I was trying to come up with a summary for design systems. And the closest I could come I think was, or maybe a question, if I’m understanding it correctly, is something in place. So someone like Thorbjørn on doesn’t go off on too many tangents? Yeah,

John Bevan 46:50
but what’s really going to play with you is how should you decide which tangents of Torbjorn? Because I, I’ve experienced some of those tangents, and they’ve been elucidating moments. They’ve been enlightening moments. So you’ve just asked the very question that every design director and every I wouldn’t say design director, even every brand marketing CMO, CTO is asking, which is, what is the balance of system versus language?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 47:25

John Bevan 47:26
When to tell the language to shut up, and when to leave. But yeah, your summary is very valid.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 47:39
When the language is shut up, I’ll take that as a nice ending. If I have a million pounds, and wanted to get in contact with you, to hire you to help me build a design system, or design language, or any of the other, like, things that you do history, kind of amazing. How can I how can I have spent that money on you? Where can I find you?

John Bevan 48:15
Well, where can you find me? The good news is, as you’ve mentioned, all the keywords in my LinkedIn, I think you could look up any of those. Find me or someone like me spending money and can’t I’ll have a Ferrari, please.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 48:34
Yeah. All right. We should we send it to your website or to LinkedIn? Or how do we get in touch with you?

John Bevan 48:41
The Ferrari just send it to my driveway. All right. But finding me LinkedIn, LinkedIn is the is the best place I spent. I think LinkedIn is a fascinating place, actually. Because there’s a lot of groups on there about design systems. Now, there’s lots of conferences about systems that I speak at quite a lot. But also, if you spend some time on LinkedIn, and you’re open minded and curious, you can learn a lot about design and design systems and how different people are are working with them. So LinkedIn, generally, I’m always open connecting on LinkedIn. Yeah, you can look me up John Bevan, or any of the various names letters. And hopefully, you’ll find me and even if you don’t, you’ll have you have a good you have good fun. Other interesting characters so

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 49:29
I think actually, I’m really it’s like, I’m really horrible at social media, but LinkedIn, I think I’m winning. Because I’m collecting cool contacts. And I’m, I have in my contact list, a Chinese truck driver, and I don’t think a lot of people have that. That’s my that’s my number one. Best contact on LinkedIn.

John Bevan 49:52
It’s very eclectic.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 49:55
Well, anyways, thank you so much, John, for the pleasure. enlightening us with with with big thoughts about design systems. And I hope everyone who was listening. I don’t know if you want to do the outro Martin

Martin Whiskin 50:11
because I’m sure we can. We’ve got an outro Haven’t we don’t need to do it anymore.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 50:18
Well, thank you, John.

John Bevan 50:20
Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. And as I said, anytime you want to talk on the topic of designing systems, I would be very happy to hit me up.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 50:30
That’s a wrap I guess, unless someone have to say anything to say about onions.

Martin Whiskin 50:37
Thank you for listening to another episode of Hidden by design. You can find out more about us at hidden by design. dotnet or you can find us on LinkedIn. My name is Martin whisking. This is Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen net, yes. Got it. That’s good. You can also like, subscribe, follow the podcast on all of the platforms. That’s important. Do follow it on all of the platforms. Give us five stars. And an excellent review please as well. Thank you.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 51:03
Can I say something? No, we love you. I said something anyways, I’m a bad boy.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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