Customer Experience & Design

Design Center of Excellence: building a scalable design infrastructure 

Written by Michael Vromans on 4, Jath 2023

As a brand, having strong design capabilities is crucial to success. Did you know that brands who excel at design grow revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry peers, according to McKinsey?

It’s no wonder that brands are investing in all sorts of tools and technologies to scale their designs and ensure a consistent and memorable customer experience (CX). Like design systems, which make it easier and faster to scale and create on-brand experiences. But while design systems can be a blessing, for bigger organizations with complex digital ecosystems they can also be a curse. 

Our fresh new guide Scaling design explains why designing for scale requires more than a single design system - or even multiple for that matter. It discusses the need for a solid foundation from which you can build your design infrastructure and maintain consistency as your brand grows.

If you value creativity and want to learn how to effectively scale design, this guide is for you. Read on for an in-depth recap of the guide’s main takeaways: 

Moving beyond design systems 

Whenever scaling design is discussed, the conversation often turns to design systems. Design systems came into this world to help brands deal with increasingly complex digital ecosystems that contain more products, services, and communication channels than ever before.

Design systems typically cater to a single product. As your product portfolio grows, so will the number of design systems. The more design systems you have, the more difficult it becomes to effectively manage and make the most out of them.

On top of that, design systems are usually treated as separate islands. Different departments work with their own design systems, and these systems aren’t always connected to one another. Often this leads to design inconsistencies, complex work processes, and duplicated work.

To tackle these obstacles, you need a single source of truth in place that crosses departmental boundaries and connects each design system to one another, across subdesign systems and platforms.

Enter, a design infrastructure, or what we at DPDK like to call a Design Center of Excellence.

Why you need one 

Not to be confused with a design system, a design center of excellence represents a place in an organization where the highest design standards are shaped and maintained. The core team there is composed of highly skilled design experts and specialists, as the word “excellence” indicates. It’s best not to see them as simply another design team because they work across business units and product lines to share knowledge and lead the way.

This team works on building your design infrastructure, which is essentially the underpinning of your design ecosystem.

The beauty of your design center of excellence is that when you launch a new product or touchpoint, components can be drawn from other subdesign systems as well as the central design system. As a result, controlling and scaling your designs takes less time and effort.

Let’s say you’re designing a new customer portal. You already have a design system in your design infrastructure for your customer target group. Design elements can be taken from this design system library, as well as from the central design system. And just like that, designing the portal now takes half the time it used to.

Now imagine this: a year later, you’re undergoing a visual brand refresh. Which means your whole digital ecosystem needs to be updated. With a design infrastructure in place, all you need to do is make the changes in your central brand design system. These changes will be automatically applied to all connected subdesign systems too.

You can best compare your design center of excellence to a Matryoshka doll, where smaller dolls are stacked inside another. Only now, the central design system represents the Matryoshka, and the subdesign systems the little dolls inside.

Investing in a design center of excellence is definitely a commitment, but the benefits of having one in place are tremendous. Let me break these down for you:

1. There’s a single source of truth in place

With a design center of excellence, all your design assets are stored in a centralized location, which makes it easier and faster to organize, distribute, and search for design files. Questions like, “Where can I find the latest version of the brand logo?” or “Where are those production files?” will become a thing of the past.

2. You’ll create a more consistent CX

Staying on-brand becomes simpler because of better quality control. New design requests go through your core team that is there to further develop and guard the design infrastructure. This team assists other teams with what they need and also manages access and sharing rights. All in all a great recipe for a more consistent CX.

3. It’ll take less time to bring new products to market

With a design center of excellence, you’ll be able to plug and play products onto your design center and cut design time in half by reusing existing elements and components instead of creating them from scratch.

4. Brand and product redesigns become more efficient

Rather than updating redesigns and style tweaks product by product, you’ll only have to overhaul the existing design system library - all connected products will be automatically updated. 

5. Increased cost efficiency 

A design center of excellence reduces your costs significantly. Enabling reusability, preventing duplicate work, decreasing design and development cycles, and better team collaboration all ultimately lead to a more efficient process and fewer costs.

6. Your teams will have more space to flex their creativity muscles

Thanks to your design center, teams will need to spend less time on repetitive and mundane tasks. They can focus on value-added activities and what they do best: creating the best possible CX.

7. Collaborating with different teams and departments becomes easier

A design center of excellence unites teams around a shared design language and makes it easier to share knowledge, spread ideas, and develop relationships. This greatly improves communication and enables you to build bridges between your design and development teams.

Scaling design together with Adobe

Let’s go

In it for the long haul 

Of course, no good thing comes easy, and building a design infrastructure is nothing to be taken lightly. It’s not a one-and-done process - it needs a roadmap and the right team in place to survive and truly thrive.

Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. Our guide Scaling design has got you covered - it explores the benefits of investing in a design infrastructure, offers an in-depth breakdown of how to successfully build one, and shares a couple of our success stories - including our work with global design leader Adobe. Download the guide and get started now!

Michael Vromans
Chief Creative Officer

Michael Vromans

Chief Creative Officer

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