Unlocking change through design

The context

Staying ahead of the pace of change at a telecoms giant

Inmarsat is chiefly known as being one of the world’s leading satellite communications companies, but like many FTSE 250 technology companies, it has a complex makeup with many different product types and customer segments.

It provides both the underlying communications infrastructure and auxiliary services that live on that infrastructure to governments, aid agencies, media outlets and many businesses—particularly in the logistics, aviation and mining industries.

These customers need to make constant use of Inmarsat products, and in many cases build their own solutions using the underlying components and platform architecture.

Implementing a system to make design and delivery of products consistent across the business, and promoting design internally, would be a small but significant step towards achieving that goal.

The challenge

Quickly delivering components for enterprise

The scale and complexity of Inmarsat’s offering means keeping up with the pace of change is extremely difficult, and digital transformation is a constant requirement.

Inmarsat has to variously maintain and improve its underlying technology stack, develop new products to keep up with the curve of technological change, and work to meet rapidly shifting customer expectations.

Inmarsat needed a way to maintain brand consistency across current and future digital product experiences, and to speed up design and development processes, without implementing a new system that would need to be quickly replaced.

Whatever solution Inmarsat adopted would need to be consistent for designers and developers, both internal and for their partners, and be resilient to changing requirements and the development of new products.

They understood the need to put sophisticated design and development practices at the heart of the business, rather than being siloed or externalised. As McKinsey put it in their report The Business Value of Design: “[Top performing] companies make user-centric design everyone’s responsibility, not a siloed function.”

Our strategic approach

Building a brand from the bottom‑up

We were first approached by Inmarsat back in May 2017 to help them launch a new direct-to-partner proposition, before being brought on to work on solutions closer to the core of the business. Our ongoing relationship with Inmarsat means that we can map out processes together and identify where technology can be applied, creating pockets of change which can variously reduce costs, improve experiences, or create new revenue streams.

As we were already working across a number of Inmarsat projects we were in the perfect place to develop a cohesive design system influenced and informed by the new experiences already emerging from the business. We knew that a bottom-up, rather than top-down approach to bringing about design consistency across Inmarsat would be best.

Our previous design work for Inmarsat, employing atomic design principles, was already proving popular. As a result, the evolution into a design system both systematically and in terms of gaining buy-in from teams was natural.

The solution

A framework to empower teams

For the design system we started narrow—first developing the framework to empower a single team, with clear governance. From here we then grew it out for use with multiple teams, then for the wider organisation, and moving from internal use to being publicly accessible for Inmarsat’s partners and beyond, as the system is open source.

The system would allow for time-saving features and better, faster output. It emerged from the needs of the teams, rather than any wider idea. Through our collaborative approach, we determined how the design system could continue to evolve with the needs of the organisation.

Together we defined what was working and what additional iteration was needed on the already established direction for the future of the business. In this way, the Inmarsat Design System was a small injection of positive change, which permeated through to other parts of the business.

The outcome

Future-proofing faster and simpler product development

The design system has helped to unify all of Inmarsat's products into a set of consistent and familiar experiences, but in a way that stands out and feels unique. It feels distinctly 'Inmarsat', because it has come from them, and continues to be used by them to build new products.

Like anything that becomes fashionable in product development, design systems are often misunderstood, mislabelled or identified as a cure-all. They are a means to an end, not the endpoint itself, and Inmarsat's Design System is no different.

The system empowers the teams at Inmarsat to make design and development processes faster and easier themselves. Rather than forcing a piece of external implementation on them, they are given the tools to quickly develop new products.

We look forward to seeing what designers and developers build with the Design System, and to continuing to partner with Inmarsat strategically on their ongoing digital transformation.

We've worked with Elsewhen on both external standalone products, and on improving our internal processes and platforms. The result of the Design System means as a business we save money, produce new products more quickly, and stay ahead of the curve of technological change.

Brandon James, Former Director of Marketing, Inmarsat

Summary

Not only is our design system for Inmarsat helping product teams become more collaborative and create more consistent products, but it’s also helping them decrease their time to market, save money and time overall.