Guest post by John Einar Sandvand, Communications Manager – Product & Tech at Schibsted Media
Step by step, Schibsted’s news sites are being moved to Core News Product, the company’s joint platform for production, presentation, and distribution of content. The platform also includes the design system CORDS.
A small team in Stockholm, led by UX designer Nina Felixsson, has over the last year built a foundation for the design of all the news sites operated by Schibsted. (In photo above: design system team members Felixsson, Sofia Rytterlund and Petter Säfwenberg. Photo by John Einar Sandvand.)
“Many brand designers were skeptical in the beginning. They felt the idea was rather abstract. But as we have started to work together, we see the benefits of collaborating across the brands, also in the design area,” says Felixsson.
Joint building blocks
Design systems have become a hot topic for UX designers. Many well-known brands, such as Airbnb and Spotify, have invested heavily in building design systems. One purpose is to ensure a consistent brand experience for the customers.
In Schibsted’s case, however, the design system will work for multiple brands. “That makes what we do unique,” says Felixsson. “To find a common design foundation for all our brands has been a challenge. It will serve the subscription newspapers as well as VG and Aftonbladet. And there are also some differences between Norwegian and Swedish design styles. But we feel we have come a long way this past year!” she says.
So what is a design system? One way to look at it is as a collection of reusable design components. The purpose is both to support the technical solutions and ensure a cohesive user experience.
Design system already in use
Already the mobile apps of the Norwegian subscription newspapers have been built using the design system. Soon VG’s iOS app will be launched on the same platform.
Felixsson explains that the team so far has focused on building a unified system of the most important design components. At the same time, it has been important to encourage the brand designers to actively use the system. “But we are trying to build it so that the brand designers have great freedom to build on each brand’s DNA,” she says.
As a basis, the design system team built a generic news product called The Standard. This “white label” brand is complete with artwork, components, and workflow. It is meant to be a starting point for the brand designers, who then adjust the different components to their needs.
Any future changes to the design system will be moved into The Standard after a specific revision process. This includes components developed by the designers for the different brands. “This is maybe the biggest benefit: design created by one of the brand teams easily can be reused by others,” says Felixsson.
Benefits for the brands
Felixsson sees many benefits for the news brands once the design system is fully in place:
- It will be a toolbox for innovation – with a complete set of artwork and components to use for experiments.
- The publishers don’t need to waste time on reinventing components that already exist.
- It scales much more quickly. To design a new brand can be done in a matter of days.
- The design system facilitates collaboration between the brands.
- All components are compatible with the full Core News Product.
“So far we have mostly re-created what we already have in the different news sites. In the next phase we want to start innovating and designing user experiences that we do not have today,” says Felixsson.
The brand designers at VG have worked closely with the CORDS team during the last months to make the design system work well for the large national news site. Already parts of VG.no, such as the opinon pages, are based on the design system.
“As far as I know, no other company in the world has made a joint design system for so many different brands. It is very hard to do well. But as we succeed, it brings the brands closer together and enables the designers at Schibsted to develop good solutions together. This is both more efficient, increases the product quality, and facilitates knowledge sharing across the brands,” Torget says.
Design system part of scalable platform
While the design system has brought the design community at Schibsted closer together, there is still a way to go. Felixsson smiles when she says, “Before we were in different solar systems! Today we are at least in the same solar system, and maybe even on the same planet!”
Hans Martin Cramer, head of product for Core News Product, adds, “A common design system is one of the key elements in building a scalable platform for editorial publications. The beauty of our design system is that it allows us to easily build components and features for one publication and scale them to all publications instantly without the need to reconfigure to fit a separate look and feel or architecture. This enables a speed of development and innovation that is unmatched.”