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7 minute read

Design systems: Driving efficiency and digital experience in healthcare

Introduction to design systems and the importance of design systems for digital health products. Here's everything you need to know to start reaping the benefits of using a design system

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by Graphite Digital
09 May 24
  • Design Systems
  • Digital Design
  • Digital Product Success
  • Digital Strategy

A design system is a living library of reusable visual styles, principles, rules, and components that are applied consistently across digital tools to help streamline the design and development process. They contain a set of interconnected components and guidelines that enable teams to create consistent, scalable, and high-quality digital experiences in an efficient way.

Design systems are particularly useful in healthcare and pharma due to how they address unique challenges such as strict regulatory requirements, the need for clear, accessible communication, and the demand for seamless user experiences across digital platforms.

Integrating design systems into digital health products can enhance efficiency by allowing enhanced collaboration between designers, developers, and stakeholders and speeding up the design process, whilst also ensuring adherence to strict compliance guidelines by embedding best practices and accessibility standards into the design process from the get-go. This strategic approach leads to the accelerated development of new features and updates, saving time and allowing for more innovation within the regulatory constraints.

The role of design systems in enhancing digital health user experience

Design systems can help to create intuitive and user-friendly digital health products by standardising user interfaces and ensuring consistency across all digital touchpoints. This familiarity offers a better user experience by helping users to quickly become comfortable with using the product and understand structures and signposting. This is particularly useful in time-sensitive cases where HCPs or patients need instant access to features or information.

Using a design system’s pre-approved design elements and templates can unify the processes of creating a digital product and ensure that it can adapt swiftly to regulatory changes without sacrificing user experience or facing long redevelopment times.

Boosting efficiency: The operational benefits of design systems in healthcare and pharma

Design systems streamline the development process, reduce costs, and enhance productivity within healthcare and pharma through the cohesive framework of reusable components and guidance. This framework significantly shortens the time and resources usually needed to design, develop, and maintain digital health platforms.

Using a library of pre-designed elements that are compliant with regulations means avoiding the repetitive and time-consuming work of designing from scratch for each new project. Along with accelerating the deployment of new features and updates, it also ensures consistency and reliability across all digital offerings. The predictability in design and development brought by design systems leads to fewer errors and revisions, which reduces the overall development costs.

As design systems incorporate best practices and standardise design processes, they can empower teams to focus on innovation and user experience improvements rather than getting held back on addressing routine design decisions. This shift not only boosts productivity but also can foster a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.

For organisations, where compliance and efficiency are essential, design systems offer a strategic advantage by making the digital product development lifecycle more manageable and cost-effective, so resources can be reallocated towards enhancing patient care and operational efficiencies, bolstering the quality of your digital product.

Key components of effective healthcare design systems

In healthcare, an effective design system is characterised by a comprehensive set of components and characteristics that have been meticulously tailored to meet the organisation's and the users' unique needs. As the needs of each organisation and its target audience will always be different, it’s never a one-size-fits-all all approach.

At its core, the system should include a comprehensive library of reusable UI components and patterns, to ensure visual and functional consistency across all digital platforms. These components should be designed with regulatory and accessibility in mind, especially crucial for healthcare applications where user trust and the ability to serve a diverse user base are very important for optimising retention and engagement.

The design system is created alongside detailed documentation, providing clear instruction on how to use the components and ensuring that developers and designers can effectively apply them to create cohesive user experiences. The system integrates principles of user-centred design by emphasising ease of navigation and information accessibility, which are vital for HCPs and patients who rely on these platforms for critical information.

A quality design system also includes a comprehensive governance process to manage updates and iterations to ensure that the system evolves in alignment with technological advancements, regulatory changes, and user needs. This dynamic approach allows for continuous improvement of digital health products, making them more intuitive, reliable, and effective in delivering quality services.

Case study: Success stories of design systems in pharma and healthcare

We recently partnered with a top 30 global pharmaceutical organisation that was struggling to effectively manage their global network of multiple brand sites. Fragmented online experiences were hindering their omnichannel engagement objectives, with websites taking a long time to get to market and offering sub-optimal user experiences for HCPs and patients.

We created a brand new design system from scratch in just 4 months, including HCP user research. After a 3-month rollout on a pilot brand, including design and development, the new design system is now being rolled out across 280+ websites.

The new design system has allowed teams across the organisation to maximise their online presence through streamlined design, time-saving efficiency, and optimised online experiences. Website development time was reduced from 2 - 3 months to 2 - 4 weeks, and build costs have been reduced by 90%. Crucially, it has empowered brand teams and supporting partners to focus on what they do best — creating great content, without their digital platforms holding them back.

Read more about this partnership here.

Design systems and ensuring compliance: Navigating healthcare regulations

Design systems play a crucial role in adhering to healthcare and pharma regulations and standards, establishing privacy and security by embedding compliance into the digital product development process from the beginning.

Through the standardisation of components and workflows, these systems naturally incorporate regulatory requirements, such as data protection and accessibility standards into every aspect of the digital design. This preemptive approach simplifies the otherwise complex process of aligning your digital products with the strict laws and protocols that govern patient data privacy and security, like the HIPAA (US) or GDPR (Europe).

The use of pre-authorised design elements that adhere to these regulations not only speeds up the approval process for new digital tools and features but also significantly reduces the risk of non-compliance, which could otherwise lead to legal repercussions or reputation damage.

Design systems facilitate the rapid updates of digital assets in response to changes in design or regulations, ensuring that digital health products remain compliant over time without extensive overhauls. This is especially valuable in the fast-evolving healthcare and pharma sector, where staying aware of and responding to regulatory changes is key to maintaining the trust and safety of the user.

Enhancing collaboration and scalability with healthcare design systems

Design systems significantly enhance collaboration among designers, developers, and stakeholders within organisations, acting as a common language that bridges the gap between different disciplines. These systems provide a shared archive of components and guidelines, ensuring that everyone involved in the product development process is aligned with the organisation's design principles and goals. This alignment facilitates more efficient and effective communication, as team members can reference specific parts of the design system rather than relying on abstract concepts or extensive documentation.

For developers, it means being able to implement UI elements quickly and with confidence that they meet both design and compliance standards. For designers, it offers a framework within which to innovate without reinventing the wheel for each new project. Stakeholders can better understand the design and development process, making it easier to provide meaningful feedback and make informed decisions.

This collaborative environment not only speeds up the design and development process but also leads to the creation of high-quality, consistent, and compliant digital health solutions. As design systems are built for reusability and scalability, they enable organisations to rapidly adapt and expand their digital offerings to meet evolving user needs and technological advancements, ensuring long-term sustainability and growth.

Future-proofing digital health products with design systems

Design systems can empower organisations to easily adapt to future technology changes and evolving user needs by establishing a flexible and scalable foundation for digital product development. At the centre of the adaptability is the modular nature of design systems, which consist of a library of ready-to-use components and specifications that can be updated and extended without overhauling the entire system. This modular approach allows organisations to smoothly and swiftly integrate new technologies or design trends into their digital offerings, ensuring that their platforms remain at the forefront of digital health innovation.

Additionally, because design systems are inherently user-centred, they facilitate the continuous improvement of user experiences based on feedback and changing user needs. For example, as patient engagement practices evolve or new accessibility standards are introduced, organisations can easily update their design systems to reflect these changes, ensuring that their digital platforms are always aligned with user expectations and regulatory requirements. This responsiveness not only enhances the standard of patient care by providing more effective and user-friendly digital tools but also positions organisations to be able to capitalise on new opportunities in the rapidly evolving sector.

Guide to implementing design systems in healthcare

For organisations looking to begin using or developing a design system, a structured approach is key to ensure success and compliance with industry standards.

First, you’ll need to establish clear goals and objectives for the design system, emphasising the need for scalability, efficiency, and adaptability to changing healthcare regulations. If applicable, assess your current digital ecosystem and identify inconsistencies and areas for improvement, with a focus on user experience, accessibility, and regulatory. To ensure all perspectives are represented, the team will need to be cross-functional, including designers, developers, product managers, and stakeholders from regulatory and compliance departments.

Next, begin the development of the design system by creating a comprehensive library of reusable UI components, patterns, and design principles. This library should be documented, including direction for usage, modification, and extension of components, ensure that all elements of the design system adhere to regulatory standards from the outset, and include mechanisms for feedback and iteration, so the design system can evolve based on user needs and technological advancements. Figma, the design tool we use at Graphite, connects with third-party documentation softwares, including Zeroheight and Supernova.

Implement a governance model to manage updates and additions to the design system. This includes establishing processes for version control, documentation, and approval of changes. Communication and training for all team members to encourage and establish adoption and understanding of the design system is always good practice.

Additionally, continuously measure the impact of the design system on the organisation’s digital products and processes, using metrics such as development speed, consistency in user experience, and compliance, to adjust strategies as necessary and maximise benefits.

Using Figma to create design systems

To support the design system creation, we use a design tool called Figma, which is considered an industry standard application when creating large-scale design systems for digital products due to the efficiency it offers.

The main benefit of a design system is that it’s simple, with there being only one source of truth. Figma is a powerful tool when designing as it has plugin capabilities to give more flexibility when designing, is well-integrated and has sharing capabilities which ensures transparency and easy viewing access.

Figma use begins after the initial assessment of the project once we’ve scoped out the needs. The design system building process on Figma follows a specific structure called an atomic mindset, where the first elements created are called the atoms of the design, which would consist of things such as colour or type style. This is followed by the molecules, which would be larger elements like paragraphs, which are then followed by the organisms or cards that house the atomic and molecular elements. The key benefit of working in this way is that it’s responsive, so it’s easy to manage and development is quick, scalable, and efficient.

Design system experts in healthcare and pharma

If you’re looking for a partner to support you with designing user-friendly, consistent and high-performing digital tools in an efficient and cost-effective way, get in touch.

We have 15 years’ of experience collaborating with leading healthcare and pharmaceutical organisations to help them deliver digital solutions that meet their business goals and deliver on customer needs.

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