UX innovation at scale: How to reduce design chaos and bring order to your team

April 11, 2018

The mission of Bloomberg’s UX team is to craft consistent and usable interfaces for clients. In large design organizations with inherently complex products, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Having the right tools and the right design patterns at one’s fingertips is crucial to a nimble, efficient workflow.

Consistent, predictable design can be difficult to produce at scale. With so many constantly moving pieces, a design file can be out-of-date before the designer hits ‘Save’: the framework team just tweaked the standard button shape; the search team has updated the layout of autocomplete results; the icon for notifications is changing based on user feedback. In the best-case scenario, these changes are socialized with the rest of the team; in the worst-case, they come as costly surprises. Yet even in the best-case, keeping working design files in sync with external changes is a time-consuming endeavor.

The UX team considered multiple tools and decided on the feature “Libraries” from the design software, Sketch.

Sketch Libraries allow designers to create a set of shared “Symbols” (e.g. components and assets) that can be used by anyone on the team. When changes are made to a symbol in the Library, the team is alerted and can seamlessly propagate that change into their files. The Bloomberg UX Team used this feature to create libraries for custom icons, buttons, switches, input fields and a range of other mobile design staples.

“Prior to this feature, shared ‘master’ files with standardized Symbols quickly became out of date,” says Andy Fraley of Bloomberg’s UX team. “Symbols had to be clumsily copied into new files, often resulting in new problems. There wasn’t a native, centralized method for communicating that a file or asset had been updated, so each designer had to maintain their own set of orphaned files and communicate frequently with others to obtain manual updates.”

In short, it was a problem. Not just a problem because it slowed designers down, but because it distracted them.

“When you’re knee-deep in production logistics, your focus isn’t where it’s supposed to be – on innovating for our clients,” says Andy. “Providing a consistent, predictable user interface – one that helps our busy, overloaded users perform their time-critical tasks – is a primary mandate of our team.”

Innovation at speed

Standardizing design libraries is no small undertaking. To start, Bloomberg’s UX team audited its existing documentation and style guides to determine which components and assets were best suited for standardization. From there, the team created a few core libraries, containing every element – down to the smallest design details – used in most mobile projects.

The result? An ability to quickly mock up new mobile designs with confidence.

“This workflow allows us, in real-time, to be confident we are using the most up-to-date components in our designs,” says Andy. “No chasing for the new tab control, that updated button style, the revised brand colors; it’s all there for you. This frees you up to solve the difficult problems that actually matter to our clients.”

In addition to ensuring the Bloomberg UX team is constantly driving innovation in the Bloomberg Professional mobile app, the standardization has benefits for new hires learning the ropes and UX designers jumping to new projects (which happens regularly at Bloomberg).

“Using Sketch Libraries to support our design system makes ramping up on a new project a lot easier – plus, it helps with other handoffs,” says Andy. “If you go on vacation, you know that your team members have the latest version of your project.”

Leading the way in UX

By auditing the design system, the team was able to discover inconsistencies, misapplication, and outdated components that were ripe for retirement. Next, the team plans to create thematic Libraries that align to specific product groups and create even more efficiencies in how the team builds screens.

“This takes upfront time,” says Andy. “But it is well worth the effort in downstream savings. We take our responsibility to the user seriously. While creating standards documentation and design patterns isn’t the most glamorous process, it speaks to how serious Bloomberg takes UX.”