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March 25, 2020

Design Systems: What Are They and Why Does Your Healthcare Product Need One?

What are the ingredients of truly great product design? Is it the user interface? The typography? Maybe the layout and iconography you use?

Amir M
Amir M

What are the ingredients of truly great product design?

Is it the user interface? The typography? Maybe the layout and iconography you use?

In truth, great product design encompasses all of these things — and a lot more besides. While each of these elements may seem to stand on its own, there is a collective term we can use: design systems.

In this article, we’ll discover just what a design system is and how much value it can add to a healthcare product like yours.

What is a design system?

If you’re familiar with the design process, you’ve probably come across style guides, pattern libraries, icon sets, brand color guidelines, and so on. It’s easy to mistake any one of these for a design system on its own, but in fact the design system is much bigger than that.

Put simply: any physical or digital element you deploy in the design or communication of your product comes together to form the system.

It’s really the DNA of the product — everything from the color of each button, to the way a pop-up expands on click. Even the tone of voice of the UI copy falls under the umbrella term of ‘design system’. 

The overall impact and success of the design system depends on each of the elements coming together cohesively. But, like any truly great piece of work, a design system is far more than the sum of its parts. 

Let’s find out why.  

3 reasons design systems are so important in healthcare product design

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of design systems, let’s get a little more granular and look at why they’re so important — especially for healthcare.  

#1: A cohesive design system provides consistent UX across all brand touchpoints

There’s a reason that every Starbucks you’ve ever been to across the globe looks (and feels) almost identical. There’s a sense of comfort in that familiarity. And when it comes to healthcare, comfort is all-important. Whether your end user is a healthcare professional or a patient, being comfortable enough with a system’s layout, visual design, and even color scheme can be both empowering and reassuring. It means they can adapt almost immediately to a product regardless of its platform.

One reason design systems are such powerful tools is that they enable cross-platform consistency almost by default. Thanks to design frameworks optimized for desktop, mobile, tablet, and more, your design system can be easily adapted to almost any device in any location. And when you’re introducing users to a new or upgraded healthcare device, that intuitive ease of use cannot be undervalued.

#2: Following a design system helps maintain focus on the user (rather than the technology)

One of the biggest differentiators of the healthcare space is user requirements. Healthcare products are often used in high-stakes scenarios when speed and accessibility are absolutely vital. But if the focus on the user is lost — and a product becomes more about impressive features than users’ needs — that can spell trouble.

With a clearly defined design system, product designers are able to retain a tight focus on usability and avoid that dread feature-creep. For example, while it’s important for a healthcare product to be connected to related systems, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the user experience. It’s a trade-off, of course, but in a field where seconds can really count, a design system can help you ensure your decision-making process is water-tight.

#3: A familiar design system reduces onboarding and training time

It’s critical that users can hit the ground running with a new healthcare product. Whether it’s ordering prescriptions, looking up patient records, or tracking their medication doses, users should be able to understand the system and achieve their goals as quickly as needed. 

It’s here that a design system becomes almost a requirement — because the consistency it brings reduces the need for in-depth training or onboarding processes. If you’ve ever switched from PC to Mac, or Apple to Android, then you’ll know how time-consuming it can be to relearn how a design system works. When rolling out healthcare products, we need to think about the muscle memory users will apply to devices — where do they instinctively click to go back a step in the menu, what colors do they expect to see on certain screens? Whilst you don’t need to copy other healthcare design systems, it’s worth reconsidering anything too unexpected. 

For a user, the most important thing is intuitively understanding what the design is telling them as soon the product is in-hand — resulting in speedy onboarding and increased confidence in the product from the get-go.

There’s no doubt that product design in the healthcare space requires more care and attention than more B2B or B2C spaces — and rightly so. With that in mind, if you’re working on a healthcare product and need help defining (and refining) your design system, get in touch with the Blackcreek team today.

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