The Cost & ROI of Design Systems: 6 Questions To Consider

July 5, 2022

Let’s say you’re looking to implement a design system for your business. 

The value of a design system is clear: 

It’s a system of patterns and components that create operational consistency, efficiency and cohesiveness for your organization’s digital projects. 

It provides the foundation to save you time  so you can focus your resources on improving your customer’s experience and growing your business. 

Without a robust team of experienced developers, it can be difficult to bring a design system to market in an efficient manner. 

When you outsource your design system project to an external team, your first two questions will probably be:

1. How much will the design system cost

2. How much will the design system’s return on investment (ROI) be? 

There isn’t one blanket answer to these questions. It depends on what your context is. 

If your organization is looking to invest in a design system, consider these 6 questions for a clearer answer: 

1. How many brands and consumers do you need to support?

When you’re thinking about price and return on investment for a design system, the first question you should consider is size. 

Does your business support three brands? Five or more brands? Or just the one? 

A design system needs to incorporate similar but different components for each individual brand your business supports. 

On top of this, how many consumers are your brand(s) supporting? 

A system helps to support all of your customers’ needs to ensure there is a consistent and enjoyable product experience. 

If your enterprise consists of many brands and supports a high level of consumer traffic, then the more impact a design system will bring in making sure your operation runs smoothly.

2. How many products are you selling?

A design system builds reusable components (like call-to-action (CTA) buttons, wireframes, and more) that can be used across all of the products in your company’s inventory. 

So, the more products your business supports, the more impact your design system can have. 

Plus, a design system provides a key foundation for scaling. 

As your organization continues to scale, adding more products, you save time and money as the foundational components are there. 

Simply put, a design system creates operational efficiency and saves you exponential time and money the more products you have. 

3. What types of reused logic do you currently utilize?

Reused logic are components and visual elements that implement similar functions across a number of different products and interfaces within a product or wider enterprise.

Reused logic allows developers to build a capability once but deploy it dozens of times across a product or business, and are a key to a design system’s functionality.

Think username and password pages, call-to-action buttons, or even profanity detectors on social media platforms – these are all common components that developers will reuse logic for.

When it comes to higher level components like algorithms, reusing logic is essential.

For example, many telecommunication companies will utilize reused logic through algorithms that calculate a consumer’s throughput or usage. These calculations help them determine whether they should represent information in bit versus byte units for that consumer.

For complex calculations and analyses like this that are essential to your company – standardizing them through a design system will ensure consistency in how information will be presented across all your different platforms. 

Your organization’s products might already have higher level logic implemented like an entire login flow (username, password, forgot password, reset password, etc.)...

…or only contain lower level logic, like a simple button that has a visual highlight pop up when you click it. 

No matter where your products currently stand, having a concept of what reused logic you have will give your developers a head start on how to craft an effective design system around it. 

4. How many developers does your organization have?

A design system provides an instruction manual for the developers to streamline UI and UX components throughout your organization’s digital products. 

Is your design system going to be utilized by one developer? By a development team (3 or more developers)? By multiple development teams across different brands?

Your developers will be the main people who utilize the design system as a guide for all UX and UI decisions as your brand(s) scale up. 

That’s why your number of developers is a key point of inflection for both cost and ROI of creating your design system. 

The more developers you have, the more time your design system is going to save them. 

And the more time your company saves your developers, the higher your return on investment will be. 

5. How many different types of technology are you supporting?

A design system keeps the visual components aligned and consistent across a diverse range of products utilizing different technologies. 

You can’t reuse the same built components across different technologies, but you can repurpose the branding elements like the colors, font, look and feel of those components. 

The defined visual aspects of the design system helps to speed your ability to translate to new and diverse products that use different technologies across your enterprise. 

The more types of technologies your enterprise relies on, the more time and resources you save with a defined design system that can be applied to all of them. 

6. Who is your target audience of consumers? 

Who is your target audience? Business to Business (B2B)? Or Business To Consumer (B2C)? 

It makes a big impact on how your design system will be created. 

Remember, the call-to-actions for B2B and B2C are different - which means the user pathways are also different. 

If you’re B2B, you’re selling something that will help a business function — it can be a partnership, software, or a product. 

B2C is less service oriented — you’re usually selling different types of products directly to a customer. 

Each of these consumers require different UX/UI components to optimize conversions, and design systems to streamline these components into a sustainable framework for growth. 

Design Systems: A Priceless Investment 

Design systems are all about scale. And scaling up your business is a long term investment.

Think about the current scale of your organization and its digital infrastructure before predicting a design system’s cost and ROI. 

This includes the number of brands, consumers, developers, and products as well as types of reused logic, systems, and technology your organization utilizes. 

All of these are points of inflection that figure into the value of your design system. With so many variables, the range for cost and ROI is extremely wide, and different for every organization. 

A design system provides an essential framework for scaling up your digital products efficiently, saving you time, money and resources. 

At the end of the day, scaling up your business is not a trivial investment – it’s an invaluable one that pays dividends in the long term. 

Interested in learning more about how much your design system could be worth? Drop us a line here.