Design language systems: beware the hobgoblins

A 45 minute Experience Report by:

Denise Burton


About this Experience Report

A design language communicates how your brand is reflected in your products and services. A design language system (DLS) codifies the approach to help guide and create efficiencies in designing and delivering products across platforms that look like they all sit at the same dinner table. Most importantly, it creates a cohesive narrative that instils confidence in the brand and a sense of familiarity for users. There are many benefits to creating a DLS, but there are also some negatives.

In this session, I will use a variety of examples from prior work to highlight when and why to create a DLS, how to do it, and how to avoid potential pitfalls.

About the Speaker

Denise Burton is a Design Principal at the IBM Design Studio in Austin, Texas. In her role she does what she loves - building teams that bridge disciplines; building better ways to work and building products that change lives.

Denise has always had a passion for making. A rebellious problem solver from an early age, she fearlessly tackles roadblocks and brings an openness and curiosity to her work. Building. Breaking. Remaking.

At IBM in the 90s, Denise helped design and deliver the first GUI for managing the IBM RISC System/6000, explored the viability of working in a 3D world with real things, and evolved and evangelised IBM's user centered design process and the Object, View, Interaction and Design (OVID) framework. She went on to create IBM’s web principles and guidelines, and supported the first major redesign of

Following IBM, Denise helped grow the frog Austin studio - building new teams, processes, and products. As a fellow at frog design, Denise led and contributed to award-winning mobile and desktop projects over the next 13 years. She simplified the frog design process, reshaped the design career path and led many of the design language system projects in the company. Denise's influence at frog was truly global; she helped launch new studios in Seattle and Shanghai and clients included Alltel, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, Siemens, Sprint, Sun, Telstra, T-Mobile, Vodafone, and Yahoo.

Denise rejoined IBM in 2013 to help transition the 400,000-employee company into a design-led company. She helped shape IBM design thinking and DevOps, the IBM Design Language, the IBM Design Bootcamp curriculum for college hires, and the collaborative culture for the IBM studios. She joined the security unit a year ago to return to the product space and shape the identity and design language for the portfolio. She continues to mentor designers inside and outside IBM. Denise has 6 patents and several design awards. While she loves the team sport of designing, she also enjoys reading, cooking, and hiking the Rockies.