Equality Steps

An Olympic Design System for Impact at Scale

Harris Kalofonos
6 min readSep 16, 2021

In the post covid era, we all find our self’s living in two worlds. One world has the resources to keep growing its fortunes and the other world is playing catch up. And the gap between these two worlds is only growing.

How can the Olympic phenomenon set the stage for sport administrative equity in our societies? And how the Olympic brand can be activated globally every day without spending millions for ad placement on traditional and digital media?

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are not just the biggest sporting events in the world today; they also are the most prominent sports ecosystems that touch practically every country around the world. In the places like the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, and alike, that sports ecosystem has evolved to engage the majority of the populations, this article might not resonate as much. However, in the rest of the world, grassroots sports are still managed and administered in a somewhat random ecosystem that resembles the wild west of the 1800 century. Sports clubs are ill funded in most communities if they even exist. Athletes are not valued and, in many cases, abused. National teams are not formed on a meritocracy system but instead on a who knows who system.

A core problem is the lack of leadership and direction sports administrators, and community leaders experience in serving the best and nurturing grassroots sport. Yet many would be willing to work hard to change this trend if they had direction and essential resources. For example, building on a sport admin ecosystem would help them focus on what matters at a local level without being bogged down by admin duties.

So how do we solve such a complex problem that affects so many communities across different countries and cultures worldwide? How can we create a unified sport admin system that would equity serve each community’s haves and have nots? Another question to ask is who or what sports body can even think to offer a solution?

To date, several sports entities and government agencies have tried to address these problems by creating websites that offer information on how people can engage with sports or be more active. Other efforts have attempted to provide county-level school programs by drawing Olympic or elite athlete stories and examples. Yet, the solution for a unified sports administration system that will cover the gaps the system creates still feel distant.

As I meander through the realms of sports administration, brand design, and product development, I thought a solution could come from creating a white label brand design system. However, such a design system could only stand if developed by a sports entity with the incentive to activate its brand globally daily while upholding its promise of equality to the world.

Today, we witness how Design Systems have evolved into robust ecosystems of interconnected tooling, documentation, conceptual models, and more.

But let’s take a step back; what exactly is a design system, and why does it matter?

Design System 101

A Design System is a set of interconnected patterns and shared practices coherently organized. Design Systems primarily aid in digital product design and development of products such as apps or websites. They may contain but are not limited to pattern libraries, design languages, style guides, coded components, brand languages, and documentation.

a Design System serves as a reference or source of truth that helps the different teams or stakeholders (such as designers, developers, copywriters, and project managers) design and build products.

Some of the advantages of a design system are:

  • Faster builds through reusable components and shared rationale.
  • Better products through more cohesive user experiences and a consistent design language.
  • Improved maintenance and scalability through the reduction of design and technical debt.
  • The stronger focus for product teams, through tackling common problems so teams can concentrate on solving user needs.

I have come to believe that a white label brand system developed by a sports body like the International Olympic Committee can help community leaders and sports administrators around the world can help shape a better, more inclusive future. However, like any product, a design system is only as practical as it is usable. In this article, I am just sharing thoughts. I want to spark the interest of key stakeholders as to how a design system can serve as a resource that enables grassroots sports clubs to build consistent, quality sports services and features at scale in their community realms.

The era of design systems is booming and with good reason. The methodologies behind design systems can simplify laborious administrative processes tremendously. Though they are not all equal, each system improves the development process by employing a straightforward paradigm: constraint. Design systems add structure to what can, and more importantly, what cannot be done. Under the right conditions, a constraint can significantly increase the quality and speed of sports services administrative routines such as accounting, membership registration, brand design, collateral development, website brand structure, appearance, and more.

Using constraint to free time for what matters

All design systems employ constraints, but how do they differ? One comparison point is how dynamically they’re consumed. For example, a basic design system could launch as a component kit built within another project. A great example of this in sports is a membership registration page within a website. On the other end of the spectrum, a complex system may be dynamically consumed through something like a Content Management System (CMS) to share a sports club’s news or team members’ profiles.

Building a fully customizable application might be in order for a global Olympic design system for grassroots sports clubs. Specifically, a fully themeable web application — by a country’s NOC and a local club- will allow the sport administration users to effectively white-label the application. This approach will also enable the IOC to keep essential Olympic branding elements in place and assist financially sport admin users by utilizing the economy of scale benefits by using a centralized Olympic cloud system for CMS purposes. With those requirements in mind, we have a starting point to offer administrative equality at scale. However, the theme, the instantiation of those blocks, has to be sourced dynamically so each user (NOC, federations, clubs, and athletes) can have a unique, custom experience. Also, since the application will be used worldwide by different sports entities, it will be necessary to ensure that it will be possible for end-users to customize every aspect of the application to fit their brand. This solution is even more critical because the application in several counties will be deployed on-premise, making it challenging to push updates in a pinch.

To combat these limitless possibilities, creating a design system to keep the app consistent is imperative. However, allowing users/stakeholders to customize almost every look and feel to meet their brand specifications meant balancing the system’s constraints with user’s needs, creating a whole new challenge on its own.

No matter how flexible a design system is, the fundamentals remain the same. Thus, introducing constraints will not only ensure that an Olympic application deployed at scale doesn’t break on an edge case, but it will also drive creativity. Furthermore, following these strategic approaches to instantiate a design system can enable new features. Features that are not feasible without one — like custom white labeling — all without eliminating the powerful benefits of the Olympic brand consistency and affordable reusability that the system can provide to grassroots sports administrators, resulting in administrative equality at scale!

Take Away

Delivering equity at scale where it matters is the next big challenge for all of us to step into a future we can all thrive. Though building a design system like this is, in theory, straightforward, using the right tools and employing experienced design is crucial and expensive; thus, only a body like the International Olympic Committee or a well-funded National Olympic Committee would be up for the task.

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Harris Kalofonos

Managing Director — Goodvoice Group | Connecting the dots of past & present experiences | Founder, YCA