April 19, 2018

Design Systems, brand and identity1 (part one)

Here is the issue

Our digital estate grew very quickly and tactically: when Tesco saw an opportunity to meet its customers in a new channel we went for it - groceries, sofas, kitchens, GM, carpets, wine by the case, media streaming, and so on.

Every time we did this we followed the same pattern, we set up something small and we rolled it into something bigger and better, or we closed it down. This pattern is more or less the same for every large organisation and it’s proven to be a good approach for going out into an unknown territory like digital.

Now that digital isn’t the hot new thing and the channel is maturing, businesses are looking at their digital channels and taking stock of where they’re at and what they’ve got to work with. We’ve moved from being a hedging bet on the future to a point where our leaders are asking when we’re going to start contributing to the bottom line.

Add to this the increasing understanding business leaders have of the importance of customer experience and the value of managing our customer journeys. It’s no longer sufficient to simply have a website or an app for a specific proposition; it needs to be adding value to the whole business and playing an active role in improving the customer journey for all our brand’s customers.

This is the challenge

So here’s the challenge - we’re under scrutiny from all sides.

Our investors are looking for signs in our digital estate that we’re ready to face the onslaught of Amazon, that we’re set up to move quickly and able to sense and respond to opportunities and threats in the wider market.

Our business leaders are looking to us to reduce the costs and complexity of managing our digital channels. Every different website or product that we have pointing at our customers has a cost, and we’ve got an awful lot of them.

Our customers want to get on with their shopping, and while a lot of them are loyal to our brand their expectation on digital is set elsewhere: search needs to be as good as Google, we need to be as inspiring as Instagram, and checkout needs to be as frictionless as Amazon: we don’t get a free-pass for being Tesco.

SIDE NOTE Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. Story of Abraham Wald in WWII and where to reinforce aircraft coming back from bombing missions.

At the same time, we have to attend to the legacy we’ve created - too many websites and apps all competing for the same customers’ attention. It might make sense to us inside the building to have our teams and websites divided up into grocery, and another one for GM, and another for store locator, and another for our homepage (our homepage!), and another for general help (but not specific help), but it makes zero sense for our customers. It’s just confusing. To our customers there is only one Tesco.

So, the most we can say is that our most loyal customers have learnt over time how to negotiate the insane structures we’ve put between them and the shopping they want to do, but crucially we have very little idea about how many other people (or in business-speak: potential customers) that we’ve put off before they even get close to shopping with us.

In the next section I’m going to step aback and define some terms: one thing I’ve learnt is that people get very, very confused when they start dealing with concepts like brand and identity and this uncertainty gets in the way of understanding how design works at large scale.


  1. Notes for a talk never given…


design systems design language design strategy brand inclusivity scale


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Design Systems, brand and identity1 (part two) This was intended to be about a talk design systems and how they relate to Tesco’s brand and identity. So let me start defining some terms: Our