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My company has 3 different products, 2 of them are more similar in the interface (one is an advertising/publishing platform, the other is a platform to publish web and mobile applications), and the third one (which is a social network) completely different, from the branding to the UI.

The problem that we are facing now is that there is not a strong consistency between all the products which is normal and fine, but when we produce corporate design (i.e. communication, presentations, pages on the corporate site) we struggle to find the common line between them and let them look like they are part of the same company. Another issue is that when we start a new project we always start without any benchmarks.

To solve this problem I've started to write design principles and style guides for each product, but my question is: does it make sense to write principles, and maybe some sort of general design style guide which can be applied to all of them, and the future ones? what are the cases in which such a scenario might actually make sense and why? Has anyone of you experienced something like that before and how have you handled it?

Thank you very much.

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Does it make sense to write principles, and maybe some sort of general design style guide which can be applied to all of them, and the future ones?

It probably does. Certain design principles and patterns will apply to just about any digital experience; only in rare cases does it make sense to maintain separate standards for everything. Think about it:

  • Even though your products serve different purposes and users, are there UI components that they share?
  • Are there similar pages/templates on each, like an "About" page, or a person's profile?
  • Do 2 or more of them use consistent coding styles or class naming rules?

If so, it probably makes sense to keep one set of guidelines for those things, instead of 2 or 3. The key question you should ask yourself is "what about these things are designed to be consistent, and what are designed to be distinct?"

However, there are practical and strategic reasons you might opt to not use a single set of guidelines. If several of these are true, it might be a good idea to have separately-maintained guidelines:

  • Your users don't actually know that your brands are related to each other
  • The products' design, development, and management teams are siloed from each other
  • The apps are on radically different platforms and don't share users, UI patterns, or much of anything. (Like, Playstation 4 vs. Apple CarPlay, not just Android vs. iOS)

Keep in mind, though, that you could definitely publish more than one set of guidelines to the same place. You could also publish some of the same guidelines to multiple places. It's up to you, as the designer/team, to design the guidelines so that they'll be useful to everyone involved, encouraging consistency wherever you need it. And just like anything else, you can iterate on it.


As a side note, I recommend checking out as many design systems as you can for inspiration. There are tons of them published online. (Just don't be disappointed when you can't launch a site like this immediately...it's a process.) Here are a few good ones:

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    +1 Interesting to see that GE's Predix system extends the Atomic Design concept by Brad Frost. I also took a more practical approach to create my own design language that has similar elements. – Michael Lai May 12 '17 at 23:20
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Let's look at each of the problems in more detail and think about the solutions:

The problem that we are facing now is that there is not a strong consistency between all the products which is normal and fine

So you are saying that the products don't need to have a similar look and feel at the product level.

but when we produce corporate design (i.e. communication, presentations, pages on the corporate site) we struggle to find the common line between them and let them look like they are part of the same company.

But at the corporate level it needs to. So the guidelines need to establish the baseline at the corporate level.

Another issue is that when we start a new project we always start without any benchmarks.

So you take the guidelines at the corporate level and extend it to each of the projects, or the groups of projects that share a common theme that you can generalize into a set of guidelines.

To cater for future needs, guidelines do not need to be prescriptive, and in fact can serve as an idea for how to pave the way to how you want to design in the future, so not necessarily a reflection of current design practices, but something that you strive for in the future.

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