IBM Design Language for Product Design and Development

by Zymr

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IBM Product Design and Development


After a year of internal-use only, gathering feedback, and perfecting, IBM is ready to introduce the IBM Design Language to the world, as a shared vocabulary, framework and collection of resources that will enable designers to “create products that look, sound, think and perform like IBM, without resorting to patterns and templates right off the bat.”

The IBM Design Language website is a set of living guidelines for IBM’s software product design and development. The framework encompasses experience, visual, interaction, and front-end sections, useful for software development companies. The site includes resources such as a type scale calculator, icon template, color palettes, touch gestures, and a SASS color mix-in, along with design examples.

The beauty of the IBM Design Language is in the way it can be applied across multiple applications and many modern form factors, like mobile phones and tablets. IBM’s portfolio consisted of a single creative style that users can become familiar with. This not only benefits the company, but also the users.
The IBM Design Language, the new framework, has been in the works for around a year, according to a blog post detailing the project. IBM’s rationale for the Design Language is “unity, not uniformity,” and it aims to be “more instructive than prescriptive.” This translates into less emphasis on stock designs or templates and more emphasis on guidelines and concepts.

IBM Experience

It is written in the blog post that “off-the-shelf patterns and templates would actually stifle the innovation that we designed the language to encourage.” Rather, the design concepts revolve around a set of experiences — how users discover something, get started with it, get help with it, expand on it, and so on.

On that note, do not look to the resources IBM provides for the Design Language for an out-of-the-box site design experience akin to Bootstrap or even a set of Web display elements in the same vein as Material Design. Among the few resources provided are an Adobe Illustrator template for icons, an online type scale calculator and color analysis tool (both provided by non-IBM sites), and a set of color palettes.

[See Also: Design Patterns – Structure for Application Development]

IBM Front End

Design Language with Dialects Rather than Patterns

IBM’s design guidelines do not contain any patterns or templates at the moment. The company looks at the types of products available and considers the different industries it serves, from health to social. It then aspires to create enough flexibility in the design language to evolve its own ‘dialect,’ with nuances and differentiators proper to that field.

If there are no patterns or templates, what is the IBM Design Language? It is a set of living guidelines for their software product design, which encompass experience, visual, interaction and front-end design. From front-size calculation to best-practice instructions for prototyping and performance (design this in from the start) to user experience design in the section ‘Head meets Heart’. IBM too wants ‘lovable’ products.

IBM Visual Layout

IBM’s UX Guidelines

User Experience for IBM means being proactive, not only focusing on users’ end goals, but also anticipating their next moves. The Design Language breaks ‘UX’ down to six distinguished yet universal user experiences, each corresponding to a typical user question or goal. “Whether or not a product or service is designed to address each experience, at some point, some user is going to have that experience,” Adam Cutler points out on the blog. These six ubiquitous questions and experiences are:

  1. How do I get it? => Discover, try and buy
  2. How do I get value? => Getting started
  3. How do I get my job done? => Everyday use
  4. How do I keep it running? => Manage and upgrade
  5. How do I build on it? => Leverage and extend
  6. How do I get unstuck? => Get support

IBM user experiences

Before Language Comes Thinking

This is what IBM Design Thinking is all about. Based on previously established principles from the design world, this is what gives IBM its own flavor. Design Thinking is a user centered approach for creating any given process, perfect for user experience designers. The core principles and practices involve understanding how a user discovers that process, comes to understand it, and then learns how to derive increasing value from it. Design Thinking provides a structured process in which the UX team can work with other stakeholders in an iterative way.

[See Also: Who is the ‘User’ in an Agile User Story?]

IBM Interaction
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