Building a Successful Design System for B2B Products

Creating a well-structured design system is indispensable for any organization aiming to streamline their product development process and guarantee an identical user experience. In this blog post, we will explore the critical components of creating a successful design system specifically tailored for B2B products.


June 14, 2023

To kickstart our exploration, let's establish the foundations of your design system. We'll then discuss how to create an efficient development environment by streamlining documentation and code, build a strong design team with complimentary skill sets, implementing design tokens, and finding inspiration from successful examples.

Next, we'll delve into maintaining your design system while ensuring consistency and automating processes where possible. Lastly, we will examine leveraging an experienced UX agency to support your design system implementation - understanding the benefits of working with an agency, identifying the right partner for your needs, and evaluating potential agencies.

Before we get too far, let's see what a design system can do for your organization. Listen to what Brian Colby of Moen said about our design system work with them!

Building The Foundation Of Your Design System

Design systems are like the foundation of a building. You wouldn't build a skyscraper without a solid foundation; you can't create a successful design system for a large b2b application without a strong foundation. And just like how a building's foundation needs to be carefully planned and constructed, the foundation of a design system needs to be well thought out and executed.

One approach to creating a strong foundation for a design system is atomic design, which sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it's actually a really useful concept introduced by Brad Frost. Atomic design breaks down complex design systems into smaller, more manageable components called atoms, molecules, before you even start thinking about pages, templates or more complex workflows. It's like building with Legos - you start with the basic building blocks and work your way up to more complex structures.

By focusing on the atomic and molecular level of design, teams can create a solid foundation that sets the stage for more complex components. Think of it like baking a cake - if you don't get the ingredients right, your cake is going to be a disaster. But if you get the ingredients right and follow the recipe, you'll end up with a delicious cake that everyone will love.

A while back we had Brad Frost on our podcast to talk about this very thing. Make sure to give his episode a listen!

Identifying the Source of Truth in Your System

The source of truth refers to a single point where all information about components, patterns, and guidelines are stored and maintained. This ensures every team member can access accurate information when building products or updating.

There is some debate on where a design system's source of truth should ultimately live (code or design), and each approach has trade-offs.

Source of truth in Figma:

If your design system lives in Figma as the source of, it's extremely easy to make updates and share that with you team instantly. However you have to communicate and QA your product more thoroughly to ensure that it's using the proper components and matching your figma file.

Source of truth in Code:

If your design system lives in code (like Storybook, zeroheight, or Backlight) you know exactly how components will look across your product as soon as they're documented. The trade off here is that it takes more time to maintain the code and build the foundation.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. You Must Collaborate With all Departments

If you want your design system to be used and adopted, you gotta get your team on board and get everyone involved. Why go build this fancy useful tool if only a few people have access to it?

Schedule some quality time with your other departments in your org to review, document, and maintain that bad boy. And don't forget to make it easily accessible to all your departments - we're talking designers, developers, and anyone else who wants in on the fun. You never know where inspiration will come from when you involve the broader teams.

By establishing a clear source of truth and working together across all departments, you can lay down some serious design system groundwork. This is the secret sauce to ensuring that your B2B product's user experience is consistent and meets the needs of your users. And let's be real, happy users = happy business. So let's get this party started and build a design system that works for everyone!


💡 Main Idea:

Use the atomic design philosophy to build the right foundation for your design system.


Establish a clear "source of truth" so everyone knows where to go and what to reference, and how to maintain it.

Get the company on board. If no one uses it other than the designers, it's not going to be an effective tool for the organization.

Tools You Can Use to Create an Effective Design System

Once the design system's framework has been established, you need to create an efficient development environment. One powerful tool for achieving this is Backlight, which helps streamline the implementation process by collocating documentation, code, and user interface outputs in one place.

Utilizing Backlight for Effective Development Management

With its user-friendly interface, Backlight streamlines the implementation process of your design system components. By providing an intuitive user experience, it facilitates the implementation of design system components while freeing up designers to concentrate on tackling intricate challenges instead of dealing with tedious tasks such as managing documents or controlling versioning.

Here's how:

  • Maintain consistency: Keep all your design resources centralized within one platform to ensure consistency across teams and projects.
  • Screenshot testing: Easily test UI changes through automated visual regression tests, catching inconsistencies before they become major headaches.
  • Built-in collaboration tools: Foster effective communication between team members by utilizing built-in commenting features and real-time updates on project progress.

Streamlining Documentation and Code Organization

In addition to using tools like Backlight for effective development management, it's essential to establish clear guidelines on how documentation should be organized within your design system. Some best practices include:

  1. Create a standardized folder structure: Having a consistent way of organizing files will help ensure consistency throughout your team while making it easier for new members to onboard quickly.
  2. Maintain comprehensive component libraries: A well-organized library enables rapid prototyping through extensive component libraries, crafting simple yet intuitive user experiences.
  3. Implement version control: Using a version control system like Git will allow your team to track changes and collaborate more effectively on the project.

By creating an efficient development environment with tools like Backlight and following best practices for documentation organization, you'll be well on your way to building a successful design system for your B2B product. The next step is assembling a strong design team that can bring this vision to life.

💡 Benefits of using Backlight:

  • Addresses collocating documentation, code, and user interface outputs.
  • Streamlines the implementation process of design system components.
  • Maintains consistency across teams and projects.
  • Fosters effective communication between team members with built-in collaboration tools.
  • Offers a streamlined approach to documentation organization.
  • Includes screenshot testing capabilities.

Building a Strong Design Team

A successful design system for your B2B product is only as good as the team behind it. Assembling a strong and diverse design team with varied skill sets is essential to ensure smooth collaboration during this process. Let's dive into how you can create an all-star lineup of designers, developers, and stakeholders.

Assembling a Diverse Team With Varied Skill Sets

The ideal design system team should consist of:

  • An interaction designer focused on user experience.
  • A visual designer responsible for aesthetics and branding.
  • A developer skilled in coding practices and component creation.
  • A content writer focused on tone, verbiage and voice.
  • And ultimately a designer who owns and maintains the design system

This mix ensures that your design system will be well-rounded, addressing both form and function while keeping business goals in mind. Remember, diversity is key. Different perspectives lead to innovative solutions.

Encouraging Regular Open Communication Among Teams and Departments

In order to foster collaboration within your cross-functional team, it's crucial to establish open lines of communication early on. Encourage members to share ideas freely through brainstorming sessions or informal discussions about project goals and milestones. Encourage team members to play with the design system by commenting on items in Figma, building their own prototypes, naming components and becoming familiar with what everyone has in their arsenal of design tokens, components and modules

Design systems teams should also hold regular meetings to discuss progress, address any roadblocks, and ensure consistency across the project. Regular check-ins among team members enable them to collaborate toward the same aim while also cultivating a sense of fellowship.

Remember: building a successful design system for your B2B product is no small feat. By assembling an all-star lineup of talent and fostering open communication within your team, you'll be well on your way to creating an exceptional user experience that ensures consistency across platforms while driving business growth.

💡 Strategies to building a strong team:

  • Assemble a diverse team with varied skill sets, including interaction designers, visual designers, developers, and executive sponsors.
  • Foster effective communication among team members through regular meetings and collaborative tools like Figma or Slack channels.
  • Encourage everyone to participate in the design system process by naming components and contributing to it's maintenance and improvement.

Implementing Design Tokens Effectively

Design tokens are the building blocks of your design system, acting as a single source of truth for all design-related values such as colors, typography, and spacing. When implemented effectively, they can help maintain brand consistency across platforms while ensuring faster development cycles due to component reusability. In this section, we'll explore some valuable tips on using design tokens in your B2B product's successful design system.

These can also be really helpful when you have multiple products that have similar but different branding. You can slightly modify your design tokens while keeping all of your components looking like they are within the same product line

See how we did this with our client Navigate360 across their multi-product suite of edTech tools.

Learning From Other Successful Products' Use of Tokens

if you're ready to get serious about design tokens, it's important to take a look at how other companies are using them like champs. For instance, you might want to examine how IBM's Carbon Design System or Google's Material Design utilize their respective token systems. By analyzing these design principles and understanding their approach toward managing tokens within their ecosystem, you can pickup some sweet tips and insights that will help shape your own strategy.

Should I Make My Design System Specific or Flexible?

Developing a design system that strikes the right balance between specificity and flexibility is essential to creating cohesive, effective design. On one hand, a system that is too rigid can stifle creativity and make it difficult to adapt to new situations. On the other hand, a system that is too loose can result in inconsistent design and slow down the design process.

Our Recommendation

Our recommendation for building products in the b2b space is to err on the side of more rigid than flexible. An inflexible design system can be advantageous in situations where consistency is critical. For example, in industries such as finance or healthcare, where precision and accuracy are paramount, it may be necessary to have a more rigid design system to ensure that all elements are consistent and comply with regulatory requirements.

Also with these sorts of applications, there are generally lots of complex workflows and problems to be solved. If you have less patterns and components to choose from and solve them all with a similar pattern, that can help you move faster and focus on producing consistent functionality across the board.

It also helps the team get up to speed faster. Knowing what everyone has in their arsenal keeps things in line and everyone on the same page, which is especially helpful with large distributed teams.

Of course, there are also situations in which flexibility is essential, and it's important to find the right balance based on the needs of your team, your brand, and your users. However, in certain situations, choosing to err on the side of inflexibility can be a smart strategic choice that helps ensure consistency, efficiency, and brand identity.

💡 Benefits of a (more) inflexible design system:

  • Consistency: ensures that all design elements are consistent, creating a cohesive brand image and user experience.
  • Speed: By removing decision-making processes, an inflexible design system can speed up the design process and help teams move more quickly and efficiently.
  • Shared knowledge: An inflexible design system provides a shared understanding of design elements and guidelines, reducing miscommunication and ensuring that all team members are on the same page.
  • Problem solving: An inflexible design system can aid problem-solving by providing a more structured and controlled approach to design, making it easier to identify and address issues.

Importance of Maintenance in Preventing Collapse

Design system maintenance is like keeping up with your garden - you can't just let it run wild or it'll become a tangled mess of weeds and thorns! Same goes for your design system - neglect it and you'll end up with a hot mess of inconsistencies and slow development cycles. So, stay on top of it and give it some regular TLC to keep it blooming beautifully across all platforms!

Design Debt is a Real Thing

Design debt can be a sneaky little bugger, piling up quietly in the background until suddenly you're knee-deep in inconsistencies and poor user experiences. Just like any kind of debt, it's always better to tackle it early before it gets out of control. So, don't let design debt creep up on you like an unexpected bill. Here are a few strategies to keeping design debt to a minimum.

  • Inconsistencies Everywhere: Without regular maintenance, your design system can quickly become a hot mess of inconsistencies, making your products or applications look like they were designed by a bunch of blindfolded monkeys.
  • Usability? What's That?: When you neglect your design system, you're essentially telling your users "good luck, you're on your own!" As a result, your products or applications can become frustratingly difficult to use, leading to angry users and lost business.
  • Wasted Time and Money: Neglecting your design system can lead to costly mistakes and wasted resources. It's like letting your car go without regular maintenance - eventually, it's going to break down and cost you a fortune to fix.

Fight Design Debt with Regularly Scheduled Maintenance, Reviews and Documentation

  • Regular Reviews: Schedule regular reviews of your design system to ensure that all elements are up to date and aligned with your brand guidelines.
  • User Testing: Conduct user testing to ensure that your design system is optimized for the needs of your users.
  • Documentation: Ensure that your design system is properly documented and that all team members are aware of the latest updates and changes.
  • Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between designers and developers to ensure that your design system is optimized for both usability and functionality.

Partnering With Specialized UX Agencies

Agencies like UX Cabin have expertise in building scalable enterprise-level design systems using proven methodologies. When leveraged to create your design system, they can help you build your products faster and set your team up to build a scalable, long-term design system for your team.

Identifying Suitable Specialized UX Agency Partners

To identify the right specialized UX agency for your needs, consider the following factors:

  • Experience: Look for an agency with a track record of working with similar B2B products and industries as yours.
  • Past Work: Review their portfolio to ensure consistency in delivering high-quality design systems across various projects.
  • Tailored Approach: Ensure the agency is willing to customize its approach according to your specific requirements and constraints.

Leveraging External Expertise for Efficient Implementation

A partnership with a specialized UX agency brings several advantages when implementing a successful design system. Some of these benefits include:

  1. Faster time-to-market: An experienced team will help you streamline processes by leveraging reusable components and design resources, ensuring faster delivery of new features and improvements.
  2. Consistency and scalability: The agency's expertise in building design systems will ensure consistency across your product while making it easier to scale as the business grows.
  3. Improved collaboration: An external team can act as a bridge between different departments, fostering better communication and understanding of shared goals.
  4. Ongoing support: A specialized UX agency can provide continuous maintenance and updates for your design system, ensuring it remains relevant and effective over time.

Partnering with a specialized UX agency offers valuable support throughout the process of building a successful B2B product design system. From assembling an expert design system team to providing ongoing maintenance as they build products, these agencies help companies achieve their desired outcomes more efficiently than going at it alone.

See how we helped Moen build their design system and the incredible ROI it gave them!

The Importance of Building a Successful Design System for B2B Products

Creating a successful design system requires careful planning and execution. By defining your goals and objectives, implementing consistency across platforms, collaborating with development teams, and leveraging the expertise of a UX agency when needed, you can create a design system that enhances user experience while streamlining workflows fro your team.

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Still not sure you need a specialized UX agency to help round out your design system team?

Let us help you maximize the potential of your design system to meet and exceed your business goals.


Design System

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