With ever more sophisticated tools available to deliver tailored customer communications across multiple channels, it sometimes feels like the web CMS has not kept up in the race to provide marketers with powerful, flexible tools. CMS users are still looking for platforms that let them publish content on their schedule, rather than the technology’s.
If your business needs to run multiple web sites reflecting differing service lines, or linguistic and geographical territories, or if you run a division containing multiple brands, you can find yourself quickly spending very large enterprise CMS licensing fees to get the flexibility and power you need.
Acquia is in the business of countering this by using a best-in-class open platform, alongside enterprise cloud hosting, to provide a different approach. And with the recent integration of Cohesion into the Acquia customer experience stack and long-standing tools like Acquia Cloud Site Factory (ACSF) it now rivals the big proprietary software vendors’ ability to solve marketers’ multi-site headaches.
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.
So what is Cohesion, and how does it help us? Cohesion enables Drupal to run design systems. It’s as simple as that. Design systems, it turns out, are a pretty effective way of dealing with a number of problems that marketers have, and help drive revenue in some surprising ways. The proprietary CMS vendors charge big bucks to deliver and license platforms that run them. Brands often end up using them, because they solve problems and open opportunities.
First of all, what is a design system?
Think of a design system as a flexible set of cards, patterns and widgets that live in the CMS as re-usable coded components. Some of these patterns display content in common ways: hero sections, two column layouts, pullout quote blocks. Others display media: video content, imagery. Others display more complex content in easily digestible interactive patterns: accordion blocks, tabbed behaviours.
Design systems are branded.
This means they incorporate your typography, colour palette and are designed specifically with your content needs in mind. They help prevent an inconsistent brand experience.
Design systems are configurable.
Components can be configured to be used in different ways by the editor - image-left text-right, text-right image-left, padding-on, padding-off. They can have elements displayed and/or hidden depending on the content-need. They can be combined together in layout components to build more complex content displays.
Design systems are usable.
Design systems are built by designers and engineers to be used by marketing and content professionals who have no specific technical knowledge. They can be used by assembly agencies without specific technical understanding to rollout multi-market brand web estates at scale and speed.
Design systems bake-in best practice.
Whether it’s responsive behaviour, branding, accessibility, user experience or content design, design systems incorporate best practice, so we don’t end up re-inventing the wheel (or worse - forgetting that we need the wheel or what wheel we built before!) each time we use them. And when we add a feature, all the users of the system get to use it.
Design systems are rules-based.
This means they perform in predictable ways. This doesn’t mean they are cookie-cutter (if they are, they’ve been designed wrongly). Your design system will render content in ways you - and your users - expect time-after-time, device-to-device. If your design system does not have rules, it cannot be executed from a single technology platform, and you have scalability and technical / design debt issues to deal with. And cost, lots of cost. It is possible that you need something more flexible than a rules based system - for example if you need to bring consistency across a series of websites already on _different_ technology platforms. For this you need a style guide, not a design system.
Design systems aren’t templates.
Your brand / visual design agency may roll their eyes if asked to work within a system. This is because many CMSs traditionally use templates to fix page layout. This restricts creativity, and creates a feedback loop between brand design and technology vendor, where one asks ‘What can we design that will work within your platform?’ and the technology vendor replies ‘Well, what do you want to design?’. Design systems allow both content elements and layouts to be configured in flexible and re-usable ways without further developer intervention. This allows creatives to be creative, and developers to develop.