Proving the value of a Design System to management: Key takeaways.

Jack Reinelt, President of the Americas
17 December 2020

It’s no secret that Design Systems present many benefits for product teams and businesses, however, getting the buy-in from management can become a challenging task if you fail to illustrate the business value. Stakeholders understand what a sizable investment implementing and maintaining a Design System can be, so what steps do you have to take to build a solid business case? and how do you link a Design System with the organization’s overall profit?

This fall, our Product Director, Ben Magnus, who has recently led the creation and build of a global Design System for Audi, explored the Design System topic over a series of 3 webinars; the final session took place last week where he walked us through his learnings and insights on how to get the ‘yes’ from management. Here, I’ll run through some of the key areas covered in this informative and question-packed discussion.

The 3-Step Process for proving value

What benefit does a Design System have for me? This question is asked in every initial client conversation we have before building a Design System. To prove the value, you need to get familiar with this effective method that has been implemented and perfected with multiple clients; the 3-step process starts with defining your objectives, moves into measuring your success, and ends with communicating to stakeholders. 

Step one - Define

Defining your objectives consists of four key elements:

1. Understanding the context: To develop a good understanding, you’ll need to ask the following questions before you begin: What type of organization are you or are you working with, what is driving the need for a Design System, and what value will a Design System bring? The answers can be quite different for each business and vary by the size of the organization. 

It’s important to understand why you are introducing the Design System and what problems you are trying to solve; without context you might be solving the wrong issues and end up with a Design System that may not resonate with management

2. Developing your objectives: Once you’ve understood the context, the key takeaway here is: make sure you don’t create your objectives in silo; ultimately, this is all about trying to build a system that everybody has bought into and all team members can leverage. If you get all decision-makers and users in agreement with the objectives and onboard from the start, it will ensure the adoption and growth of the Design System within your organization.

3. Defining your key results: With the objectives for the Design System established, it’s time to think about what the  KPIs are going to be. Without defining what success looks like upfront, it’s difficult to prove the impact your Design System is having within the organization.

This step is probably the most crucial bit. From my experience, defining what success means and how you’re gonna measure it, is the most important thing that you should focus on in these early stages

Once you’ve set your KPIs per each objective, make sure that you’re tracking them through the process to have a tangible metric that you can then present to management. These KPIs need to: a. relate back to your objectives, and b. resonate with the management team. 

4. Knowing your audience: Understanding who the stakeholders are and identifying their goals, helps shape what gets included in your pitch; although your main objective should be centered around the core problems that you are trying to solve with your Design System, tailoring your message to the audience you’re presenting to is essential to your success. What the CEO values might be different from what an Engineering Lead does, so it’s important to know their perspectives and speak their language. 

Consider these two questions

When we go into a meeting with management, we are often asked these two questions:

1. How does a Design System save me money?
2. How does a Design System make me money?

From a manager’s perspective, it may be difficult to understand and prove that a Design System is going to create profit for the organization; Many are quick to think, this is not a customer-facing application, so how does this product make or save me money?

In previous implementations, we’ve focused most of our time on how a Design System saves money. This concentrates on the cost reduction aspect which is illustrated in multiple forms such as: 

  • Enabling reusability 

  • Reducing duplication of work 

  • Creating process efficiencies 

  • Decreasing cost and time to designing and developing new components 

  • Decreasing cost of refactoring

  • Decreasing cost to onboard 

On the other side, how does it make money? There are ways that Design Systems can drive more revenue. Research shows that customers who feel familiar with the product they are interacting with, they tend to come back to the product, which leads to:

  • Delivering a better and more consistent user experience (allowing time to be spent on more value-add activities)

  • Increasing speed to deliver new features/functionality to users

  • Increasing time spent on optimizing the experience

  • Increasing familiarity with product design and driving repeat usage

The fact that we’re saving more time on the mundane tasks, means that we can focus on value-add activity and spend more of our capacity optimizing the experience

Example Objectives

Here are our three core objectives: 

  • Consistency: Creating a common set of principles, resources, and components to improve consistency and user experience.

  • Efficiency: Developing a unified system increases the speed at which product teams produce components and reduce duplication.

  • Collaboration: Creating an accessible, extensive, and evolving platform to support collaboration between disciplines, teams, and markets.

The goal here is to enable other teams and individuals to contribute back to the system. Once you’ve achieved that, then the system can evolve at a faster pace, and then you can start building advocacy between teams

Step two - Measure 

There are two ways to measure the value of a Design System:

1. Quantitative

Performing quantitative research and data gathering can take multiple forms including a quantifiable business value achieved, statistics on coverage across the organization, and results from user research. For example, you can run studies with the team at the start to get a baseline for the statistics and then re-run the data every 6 months and that helps you gauge whether things are improving or staying stagnant.

2. Qualitative

While not critical in proving the value of a Design System to management, supporting the quantitative metrics with qualitative research and findings can often be a plus; like the inclusion of a simple quote from a user of the Design System.


Stop building Design Systems without a tracker!

This quote is from a Design System article that explains the essential need for a tracker when measuring quantitative results. Even when team members across the organization start to use the newly created Design System, don’t forget that you still need to track your success against the original KPIs. 

Unless you measure the impact of the Design System, it’s almost impossible to prove to management that it’s a success and worth the ongoing investment

Proving the value overtime

This graph illustrates the yearly design & development cost with a Design System vs. without; you’ll see there is an initial high cost involved in developing the Design System but over time that yearly cost decreases as the adopting product teams’ efficiency and velocity increases leading to new features being released faster. 

You start to see the benefits of the Design System overtime whereas without one, you’ll have a bigger need for more product teams which leads to more friction, less efficiency, and your yearly design and development cost will start to soar

Webinar graph

Quantifying the value

To understand the impact of design systems, tie business value to a direct cost reduction. The graph below is a great example of how you can quantify your value using two different metrics (designer time/cost or a similar table illustrating developer time/cost). In this example, you’ll see a monthly design time reduction of 25% - When you apply this towards the total design time reduction in a month, then a year, you would be looking at a significant cost saving of $720,000.

Webinar graph 2

Estimated Business Value

There are additional items to consider and include in your final estimated business value before you present to management; like the product cost reductions as well as the cost of a Design Operations team – which is highly recommended because it dedicates enough resources to grow and evolve the Design System.

Below is an example of a big organization’s estimated cost reduction; this is powerful proof for management to see and reason for them to continue investing.

Webinar image 3


Find your advocates through qualitative research. Collecting regular feedback from users of the Design System forms part of building a community of engaged and invested collaborators. Use their feedback, like statistics or quotes that have been collected through formal or informal channels, to help backup your pitch to management.

A combination of quantitative and qualitative information is a powerful way to prove the value of your Design System.

Step three – Communicate

Communication is a crucial step in proving the value of a Design System; it consists of:

  1. Getting to know your audience: By identifying your stakeholders and understanding what’s important to them; conducting a stakeholder mapping exercise will help paint the picture of who you are communicating to

  2. Focusing on what’s important: By selecting the type of communication that works best for your audience, for example, Progress Updates are the main type of communication that stakeholders need to receive.

  3. Craft your Message carefully: By ensuring your communication is clear, concise, and relevant. 

Ben concluded this insightful webinar series with the best discussion yet; in which he stripped a very crucial and a seemingly complex subject down to its basic elements. Getting the buy-in from stakeholders requires planning ahead and understanding your audience, but it’s a small amount of effort once you’ve defined your objectives clearly from the start, outlined the KPIs, tracked your success metrics, and communicated them regularly. The cost reduction and speed to market that a well-built Design System can generate are significant, you have but to apply your work ethic and let the process work for itself.

Watch the ‘Proving the value of a Design System’ webinar recording.

If you’re interested in learning more about the topics discussed above or to find out about our upcoming events or contact us here.