These are a couple of notes about building and managing a design system at the Media Lab Bayern.
The updates are written in reverse chronological order with a date added to each.
- Context setting
Mapping the landscape
2023-02-04 It‘s been two months since the last update mostly thanks to the slow and busy holidays and first weeks of the year and with other projects demanding my attention, this one was put on the back-burner for a while.
Still, a couple of things happened.
Starting at the beginning of January, I designed a questionnaire for the team based on the audit of our design output. The goal was to map the uncertainties of working with the current state of the CI. From brand related topics, to typography, down to workshop canvases. The questionnaire was created to be printed because I wanted to get people‘s thoughts and notes as well as their opinions.
Charting the results of the questionnaire didn’t yield any big surprises. Still it was quite notable how many of my colleagues felt insecure when it came to basic guidelines of how to work with colors, fonts, icons and images. There‘s a lot to be said about the need of “operationalizing” a CI — something the team had been lacking and the agency obviously didn’t deliver.
We‘re also currently introducing Notion as a new knowledge-base for the team, which will make including CI guidelines easy and fast.
2022-12-19 With the holidays drawing closer, here are a couple of updates:
- We have a somewhat complete list of all the relevant parts of the design output of the teams. It currently packs 63 items from colors and fonts to office signage, contracts, social posts, and merch. There‘s a lot of stuff we‘re producing in a given year.
- I experimented with Notion as home for the new design system based on the Design System Template from the gallery. Conclusion: It‘s a pretty nifty tool or how our head of marketing put it “I love it ❤️”.
- I started a typography audit, starting with our marketing slide template. It‘s, to be honest, a bit all over the place. The goal is to define a new typography system based on size ratios, instead of the fixed pixel sizes, currently in use.
With the preparations now complete, the project will “officially” launch next year with the rest of the team. The next steps will be:
a) Gathering feedback from the team on the design audit (what works / where are question / what needs to be updated).
b) Identify the biggest redundancies and gaps and strategize how to resolve them within the team.
Current artifact: a couple of tables in numbers, able to auto-generate new type scales based on the font size of a basic paragraph.
Research (a.k.a Talking to people)
2022-12-07 During chats in the team we got more information on the history of design at the lab. Especially the last brand refresh at the end of 2021, which introduced elements and colors for the different programs and thus expanded the visual language.
One thing that keeps coming up is the focus on slides as one of the main medium for presenting the lab to stakeholders, startups and potential partners (a close second is the website), which is why these are the most mature design artifacts the teams uses.
With the lab having almost doubling in head-count over the last 18 months there‘s a lack of awareness for the brand guidelines and CI. One thing, we briefly discussed, was the apparent need for a design on-boarding for new hires.
2022-12-05 We kicked-off this project in December 2022. At this point the Media Lab has existed for almost a decade and grew from two people to ~25 at two seperate locations.
During this time, the CI also grew but was never formalized beyond a collection of graphic elements, fonts and powerpoint slides.
As a consequence the consistency and quality of the design output varies wildly. While every colleague produces design work in varying quantitities, the Lab never employed a dedicated designer. Most high-quality work is done by a lead-agency which also created the CI in the first place.
What we‘re trying to do is to grow the existing CI and build a small design system. Meaning, we‘re not trying to define every use-case in a fixed document and then police the team but to create tools they can adopt creatively for their needs. Additionally we want to implement a stewardship process that enables us to periodically check in with the system to optimize, correct or discard elements.
At this point we have a cautious “go!” from the team leads and already did some preliminary research and alignment work (a.k.a. talking to people).
The next steps:
- Create a design inventory (and overview over the complete output of the team)
- Let the team give feedback on this inventory (What works well? Where do we need more guidelines? What can be ignored at the moment?)
Both of these steps will hopefully help us define a roadmap for the next months and give us some clarity as to where the biggest problems lie.