Digitalks events – Creating a Human-centred Design System that People Love to Use

“If you don’t involve your community the use and adoption will be limited” ~ Jonathan Stening

Who spoke

Hamish O’Neill – Design Lead, Brand & Design System @ANZ

Hamish O’Neill has over 17 years experience in digital design across retail, telecommunications, and finance. Hamish is a strategic design thinker and leader. He loves to systemise and automate process and help teams do compelling work, fast. He currently leads a team of designers, ANZ’s our dot com team, as well as leading the design of ANZ’s brand and design system. Follow Hamish on Twitter:

Jonathan Stening – Design Engineering Lead @ANZ

Jonathan has worked with the intersection of design and technology disciplines for over 17 years. A huge advocate for cross-disciplinary collaboration and human-centred design, Jonathan is passionate about crafting scalable UI solutions that can deliver a consistent design language. He has lead engineering for design systems at two of Australia’s major banks Westpac and ANZ. Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn:

Their experience

  • Westpac Gel
    • At Westpac the CEO at the time wanted to solve the “button soup”
    • Westpac GEL – usage guidelines, CX design, accessibility , brand values,
  • ANZ Horizon Design System

Why have a DS?

  • Brand alignment
  • Accessibility 
  • Consistent touchpoints
  • Productivity and efficient
  • Collaboration platform

What is a DS?

Who are design systems for?

  • For everyone in the org
  • A point of reference of every to use
  • Designers, POs, BAs, Engineers, POs

The ANZ team took a human-centred approach.

A human-centred design system is more than assets and guidelines

A question was thrown to the audience on the approaches they are taking. These spanned the spectrum of strategic to tactical:

  • Treat is like a product – documentation, training, onboarding (audience)
  • Skunkworks – People building bottom up rather than top down – building only what is needed
  • No design system

“Design Systems become human-centred when the people who use and touch the system are put at the centre … so how do you get them to adopt advocate and contribute to it? “


  • Transparency
    • Bring people on the journey
    • Share what you are working on and working towards
  • Empathy
    • Understand needs
  • Collaboration
    • Community input – listen and celebrate whats common and different
    • Not the design police
  • Flexibility
    • Take a flexible and iterative approach
    • Pivot what you need to, be ready to make compromises
  • Buy-in
    • Executive sponsorship from the outset brought their investment and advocacy

ANZ Approach – three key HCD methods that made ANZ Horizon successful

  1. Understood the needs of the community
    1. internal research, themes, principles
  1. Empower the community (within the org) to contribute
    1. many components designed by designers in squads. Design includes usability testing
    2. Shared via newsletters and internal channels
    3. Horizon team core group of 8 people – initiative lead … designers, …
    4. Allow team members to influence and contribute
    5. Design study – is a design critique using rose, thorn, bud in Figma. Anyone can attend. They bring their design e.g. component to the study for feedback on the component. They go through all points o feedback and discussion. Community brings their unique perspective, POV. The Horizon DS team gets to stress test the design for robustness, flexibility and extensibility – as they are solving for the enterprise.
  2. Formed alliances
    1. identified who was doing same work already – e.g. brand, design, ops
    2. Brought people in who were passionate about systems thinking

The Design Study is a design critique were community contributors share their proposals for additions to the Horizon DS.

The Horizon Design System team

  • DS culture agree to work together in a certain way
  • DS team members mindset – custodians and facilitators

Audience Q&A

  • Yes you can have a system of systems
  • How do you avoid design by committee?
    • Something they were mindful of. Takes time up front but pays off. Need to structure right activities – and the Design Study aka design critique was central forum for get cut-through and momentum.
  • How have you gauged the success of ANZ Horizon DS?
    • Had to show value to different levels of org.
    • Michelle Spencer – initiative lead – forecast ROI forecast many years down the track for the executive audience
    • For POs and designers – focussed on what they could give to them, benefits to them, the efficiencies. Used survey data to prove efficiencies using that to sell to other teams.
  • How do you perceive level of innovation when everything has to be standardised? Can you find innovation in uniformity?
    • The DS creates consistency that gives the smaller pieces so you can solve for bigger problems.
    • DS enables creativity to focus on journeys, edge cases, accessibility, micro-interactions … all the things that get set aside when you don’t have a DS.
  • Where is the best place to learn more about creating Design Systems?
  • How do you measure the ROI?
    • Productivity calculations on efficiencies based on a survey
    • Don’t get caught up in the granularity of the analysis of data points in Jira for instance. Surveys sufficient over analysing tech repos etc.
  • What technology do you use for a DS?
    • Were wary of specific recommendations, understanding that what is best for org context will be best approach but then advocated Figma ZeroHeight, React 🙂 . ANZ DS used bespoke CMS.

What could Design Systems look like in 2030?

  • Speculated that there could be 1-2 global design systems
  • Foresee some automation in the future – Systemisation of broader experiences beyond components, patterns, page templates to end-to-end journeys
  • Enable DS Roles to become more than experts with specialist knowledge to systems-thinking enablers

Step back – are you lost in a world of design abstraction or serving the community?


Design Systems are more than content assets and tech. They are a culture and methodology that need to be part of the fabric of an organisation.

ANZ combined a human-centred design and consultation approach with an open source community and contribution model to solve potential adoption issues and create a living and thriving design system.






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