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Creating a consistent digital ecosystem for a global pharma organisation

    Design Systems UX and UI Design User Research

Our client, a top 30 global pharmaceutical organisation, was struggling to effectively manage its 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.

Our priorities when creating the new design system were around creating a great customer experience, bringing consistency and clarity for internal teams, and reducing the time, effort and cost of getting a new brand site to launch. We also needed to strike the right balance between a unified global identity across the whole company portfolio, whilst still allowing scope for individual brand teams to customise their sites and showcase their own identities.

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. 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.


  • 40 websites delivered using new design system across 15 countries, in under 6 months

  • Development time for new website reduced from 2–3 months to 2–4 weeks

  • Average cost of building a new website reduced by 90%; localisation cost reduced by 60%

  • Optimised online experiences for patients and HCP

Understanding the unique organisational needs

When crafting the strategic approach for a digital experience design project for our clients, it’s never a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. To determine the unique needs of the organisation, we spoke to many different stakeholders to understand their perspectives, requirements and current challenges. We built up a detailed picture of the overall portal ecosystem — including commercial, medical, patient platforms as well as brands and regions.

The particular challenge for our client was the fragmented setup of their current digital platforms, which resulted in a high cost of ownership, poor user experiences, and a lack of data-driven learning. 

There was also a clear need for a simplified and optimised end-to-end content creation process, which could be time-consuming and laborious with their existing websites. With content being the key thing that provides value for patients and HCPs and drives engagement, we needed to free up the time of brand teams so they could focus their efforts on creating it.

This is a great achievement, and it represents the culmination of months of dedicated effort from initial research to final execution, including extensive collaboration, numerous partnerships, and a series of intense final sprints. Our new design system has now set a new standard for our organisation, marking it a defining ‘before and after’ moment in our website operations.

Seeking HCP insights to inform decision-making

It’s important not to make assumptions about what your customers want and need when designing digital solutions. Doing so risks investing significant time and resources into a product that doesn’t resonate and drive engagement. The client team were committed to embedding user research into the digital design process, enabling evidence-based decision-making and clarity around priorities and focus areas.

Graphite’s Clinical UX Researchers conducted user research and usability testing with HCPs across markets at key stages to test and validate design decisions with real users. This regular user testing will continue on an ongoing basis to reflect changing needs and behaviours.

During the discovery phase, we also audited other websites across the organisation to identify content types and needs, reviewed the existing design structures, and benchmarked health and pharma website trends to design a future-proof design system.

A new look global HCP ecosystem in just 4 months

After the discovery and alignment phases, we worked at speed to create a new web design system from scratch in just 4 months, ready to be rolled out across our client’s digital portfolio. The new system provides a consistent visual identity, improved accessibility, and impactful user journeys for healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients.

This new foundation allows brand teams and their supporting partners to focus on content and getting to market quicker, without lengthy design and development overheads. This was crucial for enabling an integrated omnichannel approach.

A modular design system within an out-of-the-box toolkit gives teams the freedom to create with flexibility and confidence, now and in the future, whilst still maintaining brand standards. It enables streamlined development of brand and therapy area content for HCPs and patients through a common design language, leading to simplified localisations and MLR approvals. Reusable components can be used on an ongoing basis post-launch to support teams with the rapid turnaround of their content output — with no need for additional involvement from design and development teams.

By applying a combination of UX best practices and first-hand insight from internal stakeholders and end-users, we were confident that the new set-up would meet both customer and business needs.

Designed to scale: The importance of rigorous documentation

Because of the use case of the new design system — to roll out across 280+ websites, in multiple markets and regions, and by hundreds of different agency partners and brand teams — getting the set-up and documentation right was crucial for success.

We approached this meticulously, to ensure that everyone had the clarity and confidence they needed to succeed, whether designer, developer, marketer, or anyone else. Comprehensive supporting documentation and guides have been created to help brand teams and their agencies to get the most out of the new design system — including 100+ short training videos!

Internal communication and rollout are key for success

When rolling out new digital products or strategies, the internal launch is as important for its long-term success as its public launch to customers. The way you communicate about your digital initiatives and educate internal teams about why and how they should get on board with them will be key.

As the concept of a design system was new to our client’s organisation, we needed to ensure all internal stakeholders understood the benefits of embracing it, and gain commitment from brand teams to adopt it. We created an internal email campaign, a promotional motion graphics video, slide decks, and held multiple calls with teams across the company to educate, explain and reassure.

A fully functioning launch web asset localised and approved in fasted turnaround time I’ve witnessed to date, enabled by our new design system.

Enhanced digital customer experiences and efficiency

The new global design system has improved digital experiences for HCPs and patients by offering a consistent visual identity, improved accessibility, and intuitive interaction.

It has enabled marketers and agencies to focus on valuable content within a compliant and standardised, yet flexible framework, that will create a unified customer experience across Astellas’ web ecosystem and brands.

We look forward to working with our client to evolve and enhance the design system, introducing new features and taking on regular feedback from internal teams and end-users to continuously improve and meet their changing needs.

Want to learn more about how we support our clients to create engaging digital experiences?

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