Everything if you’re doing it right…
Carly Ayres has been one of my favorite design writers to follow over the past few years. Currently working on Figma’s Content & Editorial team and previously at Google on the Material Design team, she has plenty of brilliant things to say. An article she wrote earlier last year titled: : Software Is Automating Design. What Does That Mean For Designers?, really struck a chord and felt relevant in so many of my ongoing projects.
“The shift toward automated design software — and the proliferation of the everyman designer — forces us to re-examine where and when a designer is needed and more concretely articulate what that value looks like. It propels our practice away from being an indescribable creative talent and toward a verifiable set of skills and proficiencies. And it democratizes knowledge, both diversifying our field and demystifying it. Technology still needs experienced designers, now more than ever: design that considers the end user and their needs and that advocates for helpful, ethical solutions to complex problems.”
– Carley Ayres
Ayres’ suggestion that a designer’s value is more than just their visual design capabilities is not new (with the origin of terms like Design Thinking dating back to the 60’s) but is becoming increasingly relevant in all industries. In an effort to expand on Ayres’ article, which covers broader trends in design and technology, I want to zoom in and get specific about why the strategic designer is especially important in the B2B SaaS industry.
B2B sales and marketing isn’t as simple as appealing to the masses. Your audience is well-researched, familiar with competitors, and making a large investment when they buy your product. You can’t just slap a cute label on your software product and expect to get a good number of impulse buys because it looked good on the shelf at Target. Your buyer really needs to understand the function of your product and ultimately the value that it brings their business. Here are some examples of how design was used to successfully enable a greater understanding of a brand/product.
Studio Science client, Salesforce, is an excellent example of a company that tells a compelling brand story because they prioritize design. Salesforce knows that their complex ecosystem of products isn’t easily understandable but by using brand characters, smaller bite-sized narratives, and visual metaphors – their buyers are guided by design along on a journey to understand their products. The larger design system of the “Salesforce Universe”, complete with characters and settings (all with their own important meaning) – allows any designer, marketer, or even sales rep to communicate using a single, agreed-upon language. In this case, the role of the brand designers was to create a visual language so that future designers can take on the role of translators.
Show, Don’t Tell:
Recently acquired by Salesforce, the messaging platform Slack became the backbone of the remote workforce in 2020. While not necessarily the most complex B2B product, Slack has a wealth of features and plug-ins that go beyond just chatting with coworkers. Slack makes excellent use of abstracted animations that explain their product features. The strategic design decision to use abstract illustrations of the product interface rather than the exact UI, intentionally focuses the audience on the value of the feature shown, rather than communicating the precise function. When designing these animations, the role of the designer becomes an educator, collaborating with Product Managers to ensure the value of a feature is effectively communicated.
When Studio Science redesigned the Bloomerang brand and website, we tackled the challenge of merging two existing brands after an acquisition. This new brand and website needed to present a single brand as well as provide clarity to Bloomerang’s functionality and value. While the Brand Design and Strategy teams worked to create a new unified visual language, the Brand Interaction team then built a framework within this language for the Bloomerang website. This framework consists of different designed modules that function as building blocks for different web pages. This modular design system allows the Bloomerang team to easily scale their site as their company grows and changes. Each type of designer on this project wore a different hat in order to contribute to an overall system in which Bloomerang can easily build within and on top of.
“Maintaining the spirit of each brand was important to us. Our work with Studio Science guided us toward a more complete understanding of how to present an updated Bloomerang to new and existing audiences.”
– Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer (Former), Bloomerang
With all of the new digital design platforms available these days, it can be tempting to consider where things can be automated. And while I am all for these services helping to democratize design (yes, truly), there is something they will never be able to replace, and that’s the human element.
No matter how advanced your design tool, it will never possess context, make its own boundaries, or be able to view things from a birds-eye view. These platforms force many of their users to build their solutions before they’ve even defined their problems. To me, this only amplifies the importance of strategic design, especially in B2B SaaS.
At Studio Science, we’re employing years of B2B software and enterprise-level expertise that allows us to navigate our client’s complex products and understand the infrastructure and systems they need to be successful. By knowing the nuanced nature of these businesses from the inside out, our expertise can form solutions automated design platforms can’t touch. Whether we’re creating a new visual language for your brand, a modular, scalable website, or even asset templates to streamline your visual communication – we still have a critical thinking leg up on AI for now.
I’m not saying “Don’t automate.” I’m saying “Strategically automate.” It’s not an either/or –– it’s a yes/and. Like most things in our increasingly digitally-dominant world, it’s smart to automate some things. But not all things.
The real design challenge in the B2B SaaS industry isn’t finding new ways to add gradients to a logo, it’s really about effectively communicating complexity. So while more platforms may continue to pop up, they lack the blueprint that provides the underlying narrative or strategy to what you’re building. And that’s where my team and I come in.
I love the ah-ha moment when a client realizes how flexible and scalable they can be once they have a solid design system in place. That foundation work is what allows automation to happen in a seamless way.
Ready or not, if you want to talk more about building a solid design system to support your automation, reach out to me at email@example.com and I can share a few tips to help get you started.