Humanizing Technology with Design

ABB is a global technology leader with 147,000 personnel and hundreds of digital products. With our support, ABB launched an initiative to build a company-wide design system for its diverse global organization. It started the journey to humanize its technology with a design approach to develop coherent, powerful and enabling solutions that provide meaningful experiences to their customers.

As digitalization is influencing even the most complex areas of the industrial domains in an ever-increasing pace, established technology pioneers like ABB were looking for new ways to take their digital offering to the next level when it comes to the ease of use and consistency in brand experience.


We joined at an early stage to start the CommonUX Design System initiative: establishing a dedicated team with a versatile system providing ABB product teams and partners a set of shared principles, reusable assets, and methodologies to steer everyone towards a collective ABB voice that connects both design and content to the brand.

Kickstarting the journey

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. At ABB, the ownership and development responsibility of hundreds of digital products is distributed among tens of business units, and the product range varies from industrial automation systems and preventive maintenance services to configuring consumer-facing home automation systems or operating with electric vehicle charging stations. This meant diving into the expansive landscape of ABB portfolio hundreds of products—understanding diverse product team needs within the 147,000 employee organization.

Today, ABB has hundreds of digital products available worldwide.
The applications are operated in various domains, from mining and factory automation to consumer solutions for the home and beyond. The environments range from control rooms to field work to offices and homes.
The applications work on different form factors; desktop and mobile, embedded displays, massive video walls—and in some instances, they run on unique old code specific to ABB only.
Industries have their own standards and regulations. ABB delivers many safety-critical systems, used in control rooms for situational awareness in extremely challenging environments.

A better understanding of ABB’s culture helped the team to create an ambitious plan. The inspiration came from the collaboration with different stakeholders, and efforts were made to deliver a story of the emerging system.

Often, we tend to focus on the technology and technical side of digitalization, but in the end, it’s still people who use the products and services. People-centric design methods—design thinking—bridge the gap between technologies and people, making technology essentially more human.

Starting from the deep end

The ABB CommonUX Design System was created to power the transition of ABB from a company that has traditionally delivered value through machinery, to a service company of people delivering value in human interaction.

To create a Design System that allows the company to build a product portfolio with a consistent look and coherent feel across the board, while remaining relevant to the end user, the Design System process needed to build on human-centric methods and real-life context insights.

A design system is an infrastructure for change; a platform for communicating and sharing best practices and innovating new ones.

A sustainable design system, at its core, is not simply a set of top-down rules but a community of insights and expertise. The design process was set up to work towards two objectives:


A Design System
Transition from a standard UI Style guide to a comprehensive Design System to be used to harmonize and improve all ABB Digital offering.


A Mindset Shift
By involving users in an iterative process that embraces open discussions, rapid feedback and reviews, introduce and motivate the use of new collaborative ways of working within the central UX design team and key stakeholders.


To have an impact, the design process fostered extreme transparency, promoting equal opportunities to contribute—at the same time, there needed to be a shared sense of responsibility to carry the contributions through the test of time.

The design system core group had a facilitating role rather than a dictating one. Shifting the design work to a cloud environment offers increased transparency and facilitates participation. An open source model is already embedded in the culture of software development; sharing code and software enables the community to make better products for the benefit of everyone.
The process timeframe had to be realistic; democratic decision-making takes time but pays off. Validation of design choices can only happen through testing with actual users in realistic market contexts. A focus on team culture during the design phase takes into account the diversity of team members and the differences of time zones, cultural environments and calendar routines, fostering a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.

Demonstrating the case internally

One of the main goals was to define and carefully select the products that could spearhead the initiative. By demonstrating their potential to a broader audience within the organization, it would open the possibility to replicate and adopt them for other projects.

At ABB, this meant starting at the deep end with complex products being used in highly regulated sectors. This was to help in understanding how industry standards and legislation could affect the upcoming design system.

During the design process, the designs had to be proven functional before moving forward to production. Each component had to follow the same style principles and be in alignment with other components.

Tests were carried out in demanding real-life conditions, in the pitch black darkness of a mine, on the bridge of a ship—using various devices new and old. Human aspects, such as color blindess, were also taken into consideration.


The ABB CommonUX Design system

With a portfolio of hundreds of digital products, it would not be feasible to create one-size-fits-all solutions to be applied across the entire range. The user needs vary from case to case as do the users’ digital capabilities.

The design principles had to build on simple universal best-practices to cater to the various use cases and users. They needed to be proven, efficient and well-documented, while still leaving room for new innovative solutions when needed.

In addition to the principles and guidelines, an extensive set of ready-made reusable assets has made the adoption of the Design System faster and a positive experience within the organization.

Product teams using
Component implementations
Monthly views
A platform for sharing of unified UX design standards, practises and resources. A team offering services of UX and service design consultation of best practises, training and quality assurance reviews.
A toolkit of reusable assets like working code, design tools and templates. A community for collaboration and contribution among R&D developers, UX and service designers and product managers from all ABB businesses.

The role of the design team

The CommonUX Design team leads the vision building and guidance of user experience design principles at ABB. The team consists of professionals with different backgrounds and nationalities who are experts from the fields of interaction design, graphic user interface design and frontend development.

The team’s goal is to provide support for the company’s 20+ business units in their UX design, help business units to establish their own competences in UX design and to proactively promote the adoption of human-centered design approach.

The team also moderates the community of ABB Designers; it is a community consisting of ABB in-house designers providing peer support, best practices and knowledge sharing, and the body for the collaboration in design related matters internally.


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