How do you migrate 170 consumer health brands, covering 1,500 market websites in many languages, in a year, to a single CMS platform and give publishing control to marketers to tailor the content in each and every instance? How do you achieve this without an army of Drupal devs and themers?
This was the question posed by a consumer-health pharmaceutical customer to Acquia. Acquia had some answers to this question straight off the bat: a powerful enterprise cloud hosting platform, unparalleled Drupal architecture capabilities and kit like SiteFactory that gives command and control over multi-site web-estates.
The publishing control question, though, still needed an answer. This called for a component-driven design system that could power multiple brand identities and yet still keep best practice in markup, accessibility, user experience, SEO optimisation and content design all in one place: in other words, a Master Design System that the consumer health division could use to build site-after-site, brand-after-brand.
Cohesion is Acquia’s design system enabler and recent addition to the Acquia Customer Experience stack. Cohesion plugs into Drupal and activates component-based pattern design, with an easy to use drag-and-drop editing experience. This let’s design experts build the platform, and then hand-off to content experts (with no specific technical expertise) to assemble and populate the pages.
As a web design agency focusing on design system approaches, this gives us at Coherence the ability to provide enterprise level solutions to our customers. We’ve worked with Cohesion, and its predecessors, for 4 years now, and it underpins everything that we do: delivering multi-market, multi-language and multi-brand design customer-facing web platforms. We use Cohesion to build design-pattern-driven web platforms, and then train our clients, their brand agencies, their assembly/content agencies to get the most from it.
Critically for the delivery programme, it broadens the development skillset from engineers and Drupal themers to digital designers and developers with core HTML skills but less Drupal theming understanding. The engineers can focus their skills where they are needed most: on robust Acquia Cloud Site Factory (ACSF) architectures, and value-add bespoke coding, rather than extensive theming, which still delivers limited flexibility.
Building the Design Solution
Previously, our consumer health customer had developed a design guide; a guide for visual design agencies charting the key component blocks, behaviours and layouts for the web estate. Visual design had already been conducted for their leading consumer brands using the design guide - all by different agencies. However, when the designs came back and the technical teams started assessing how to implement them into Cohesion and Drupal, it became clear an additional step was needed:
Firstly, while the design guide carried strong best practice principles, it is a guide and not a rule set. To build a single technical platform and then propagate it to many brands, a rule-set is needed. Otherwise, each ACSF instance becomes its own standalone platform powering the unique features of a single brand. This fragmentation drives cost, technical debt, design debt, and lack of agility for improvement.
Secondly, with each design interpreting the designs differently, we have varying user experiences, and a lack of consistency across brands driven by slight variations in execution and constant re-invention of the wheel. Either way, all the benefits of scale, flexibility, speed to market and consistency offered by ACSF and Cohesion are not realised.
Building Design Systems as a Service with Acquia Professional Services
Acquia asked Coherence to work with Professional Services as a design system partner with experience using Cohesion to build multi-identity web estates. Professional Services’ deep understanding of ACSF architecture ensured the web estate was architected with scalability in mind.
We worked with Professional Services to create an unbranded design system, or Master Design System (MDS) that could be propagated through Site Factory to create each Brand Master, and their Market Instances. We’re in the process of rolling this out now across their lead brand, with a roster of Assembly Agencies in training to build out the brand and market sites based on the Master we are providing.