How Abstract helps Salesforce create Lightning Design System’s striking experience

Designers at the world’s largest cloud CRM platform say they keep their cool thanks to “trust, teamwork, and tools like Abstract.”

Running the world’s largest cloud-based CRM platform is not for the faint of heart, but the growing team at Salesforce is up for the challenge. In 2015, Salesforce created Lightning, an innovative design system that enables the company and its customer organizations to scale rapidly. Although Salesforce is comprised of many parts and features, the design team wants customers to feel they are using one piece of software — not relearning systems.

“There’s a huge community of people that build on the Salesforce platform: customers, engineers, and designers. They all need access to the right patterns, documentation, and code. There are only a handful of design systems that are distributed so broadly. Ours is one of them,” says Alan Weibel, Principal Product Designer on the Lightning Design System.

The Salesforce product design team has quadrupled in recent years to keep up with customer demand. They use Abstract to collaborate with multiple stakeholders and keep Lightning in sync with each and every release, user interface update, and new pattern submission. After finishing the design portion of a sprint, designers use Abstract to share their work with developers.

How does the Salesforce team keep its cool under the pressure that comes with fast-moving sprints?

Trust, teamwork, and scale are my key values in this role.

Alan WeibelPrincipal Product Designer, Salesforce

“Trust, teamwork, and scale are my key values in this role,” Alan says of partnering with Salesforce UX designers across multiple products. The company also swears by clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty — their core design components.

Seamless onboarding makes the dream work

“Where can I get this file?” is a common question you’ll hear from the mouths of new designers joining just about any team. Alan says a successful onboarding process requires documentation and resources, and Abstract saves time by serving as a single source of truth for complex design systems.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve worked through is creating a centralized place to find design files,” Alan says. “Which is also one of the reasons we rolled out Abstract — our team can now go to one place to find what they need. They don’t need multiple applications.”

Laura Cruickshanks, Senior Product Designer for Sales Cloud UX, was one of those “newbies” who had to get up to speed as quickly as possible. She has eight years of experience working for Salesforce, but just recently joined the UX team after transferring from the product marketing team. “Coming from a different part of the company that has a lot of moving parts, we had different needs.”

Before Abstract, Laura says she was able to help with designing a small portion of the Salesforce interface, but she wasn’t able to share her work with primary leaders across the company. “I didn’t know what was going on in the main picture.”

“Onboarding is really important to understand how everything works,” she adds. “Having a design system and tools like Abstract to collaborate make all the difference.”

Having a design system and tools like Abstract to collaborate make all the difference.

Laura CruickshanksSenior Product Designer, Salesforce

Alan paints a similar picture, pre-Abstract. His team’s design workflow used to be like a scavenger hunt for design elements that lived on guess-who’s-computer or in who-knows-which folder.

“You’d search for so long, you’d end up recreating the element yourself. This takes time away from more important things like research or validating solutions. Getting started on new projects quickly is optimal for success,” he says. “I want to make sure there’s a cohesive experience in the product.”

Seeing the light in a streamlined design workflow

Before Salesforce used Abstract and before Lightning was fully adopted, there was a lull in communication between the design and development periods. “Designers were not involved post-handoff, so I’d cross my fingers and hope that the end result would look like what I designed,” Laura explains. “Sometimes engineers would go into our files before they were completely ready to extract buttons and export elements.” Not unlike other large organizations, they tended to work in silos.

“We are completely different now that we use Abstract,” Laura says. “We’re collaborative, and we’re able to concentrate on more important things like research and releasing new features. And we’re able to jump in and out of projects with more context, and fewer questions.”

“Even at the introductory level, Abstract is extremely effective at getting everyone on the same page,” adds Alan. “With the libraries feature, as soon as something is up to date, everyone sees the update across all of their files.”

By democratizing contributions to the design system, and streamlining distribution, Alan adds that he now has more time to focus on problem-solving and validating solutions.

“And going on a date with my wife once in a while,” he says. “Now that I’m no longer spending every night and weekend updating the master Sketch file, and feeling like a bottleneck.”

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