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How Abstract helped Banner Health navigate a future no one planned for

Tripling outputs while working remotely
How Abstract helped Banner Health navigate a future no one planned for

At Banner Health, preparing for the future is paramount. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change in an instant. 

The Phoenix-based non-profit health system operates 28 hospitals and facilities across 6 states. Their “customers” aren’t really customers at all—they’re patients. So when it comes to their digital product, access and ease-of-use are top priorities.

Today, the Digital Business team at Banner Health is made up of 30 people who help create a wide range of products; everything from native apps to chatbots to voice apps. Their team — and the tools that support it— are built with growth in mind. But it wasn’t always this way.

In 2018, Banner Health realized that if they were going to achieve a unified digital experience for our customers and patients, they had to change everything. Being a large enterprise, the company was growing at a breakneck pace, and their current setup wouldn’t hold out for long. “We had a marketing and an IT department, but pairing these teams with an outside agency wasn’t going to get us the results we needed. The agency needed to be internal at Banner,” says Mark Schumacher, Senior Director of Digital Experience.

“Digital has become such a core component of everything we do in our lives,” he adds. Mark knew he’d have to set up his team to reflect that. Unfortunately, he was also aware of several examples of how not to grow. “There aren’t many healthcare systems offering good digital experiences that are comparable to what people interact with every day with services like Amazon, Uber, and Netflix,” he says.

So Mark got to work building a world-class, in-house Digital Experience team.

Starting a new team—and design system—from scratch

Building a new team was exciting, but it also very quickly highlighted which resources were lacking. “When it was just me, I could get by with Sketch and Invision just fine,” says Mark. “When [Senior UI/UX Designer] John Huber was hired along with Rachel Abrams [UI/UX Designer], and we went from a 1 to a 3 person design team, we instantly thought, ‘How are we going to manage this?’” 

The answer? Build a design system, and invest in tools that would work well within that system. The good news was they were virtually starting from scratch. “We had a clean slate,” says Mark. “We knew that at the core of our team, everything we did would start with design and strategy. We always want to lead with data, which keeps us from taking a “technology for technology’s sake’ approach.”

Mark knew that for a team with such a variety of digital products to build, they needed a toolset  that would allow anyone to jump into a design at any point. He and John reached out to other teams in the industry to ask how they built their design systems, but didn’t find the answer they were looking for. “A lot of people said they designed in silos, and some used Dropbox or internal servers,” says Mark. “We knew that wouldn’t work for the system we wanted to build. All our products needed to act as one.”

They would also need a cloud-based tool to support versioning and quality control. “This was important when we were in the office, given that the company uses cloud services at an enterprise-level,” says John. “But it’s even more key now that everyone’s remote. We needed something that was future-ready.” 

In other words, they needed a tool that was proven to work at the enterprise-level, no matter how much their team or product portfolio would grow.

With a little research, it became obvious that Abstract was the only tool that would work the way they needed it to and interact properly with their design system. “If we were going to put all of our eggs in one basket, it was going to be Abstract,” says Mark.

Getting up and running

Mark and John were grateful for the shallow learning curve that Abstract afforded them. The team was able to jump right into the system and get to work. Soon, the design system they had dreamed up became a reality. 

“It was through the power of Abstract that we were able to architect our design system so that we could feed a Sketch library into all the different libraries that live in Abstract,” Mark says. “That became transformative for us. It’s amazing how fast we can set up new experiences and new products now.”

Mark and John were particularly excited about the commenting function. With so many chat platforms on the market, it can be easy to choose one that doesn’t necessarily fit with your team’s objectives. Abstract, Mark says, feels “tailor-made” for his design team’s needs. 

“We can go back and forth on accuracy around design system rules and best practices,” John adds. “It’s our safe space that’s just for design, which is so important as everything becomes more collaborative.”

Navigating a future no one planned for 

When John and Mark decided they needed a “future-proof” tool, they couldn’t have possibly known how soon that future would arrive. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many of Banner’s employees, including the Digital Experience team, to work remotely. This could have posed a serious challenge to such a highly collaborative group. But Mark says the team has been more efficient than ever.

“One Friday, we were working in the office, and the following Monday, we were working remotely indefinitely,” he says. “Through our tools, especially Abstract, we didn’t miss a beat. We can get down to business easier, and because anyone can work from anywhere with Abstract, there are no limitations.”

But of course, the pandemic didn’t just affect their working arrangements. It also greatly affected the work they were doing. “When Covid became more serious in the U.S., we had to address that immediately in our product,” says Mark. “We needed to have the same kind of messaging in all of our products. In those first couple of days, there were a lot of questions, but we were able to jump in really quickly. All our designs being in Abstract, we could get it done and roll it out into dev.”

Both Mark and John are confident that Abstract will help them handle the future with ease. As they add more team members and contractors, John gives each a quick tutorial of our architecture. “In an hour, designers can join our ecosystem and instantly start creating experiences that are on-brand and work within our design system. Then John and I can just jump into Abstract and use the commenting feature,” says Mark. “That’s where so much collaboration happens,” says Mark. 

Compared to how they would be operating without having built a design system that uses Abstract, the difference is staggering. “We would need to double the number of designers on our team, and in terms of the amount of time we spent doing work, it would triple.”

We would need to double the number of designers on our team, and in terms of the amount of time we spent doing work, it would triple.

Mark Schumacher | Senior Director of Digital Experience, Banner Health

John adds, “We’re moving faster now, but we’re also creating more consistent experiences. We make digital products for Android, iOS and web, and we need that experience to be consistent. Now we can be sure that designers are pulling assets from the right library. We don’t have to go in there with a magnifying glass.”

It’s been a year full of curveballs, and Mark and John are glad they had the foresight to build a design system with the right tools to handle it. 

“As our team is growing and evolving, we are relying more and more on Abstract,” says Mark. “And the tool is growing in a way that is on pace with our teams.”