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Why It’s Crucial to Have DesignOps

Over the past few years, there has been much hype surrounding the emerging term DesignOps. Let’s unpack it a bit to find out why the industry has turned the spotlight to DesignOps.

Introducing DesignOps

The term DesignOps (sometimes called Design Systems Ops) was originated by the Airbnb team. And we started hearing it from all ends after the release of the DesignOps Handbook by inVision.

DesignOps is the workgroup or single person aimed at helping designers in a tech-heavy company connect to stakeholders and developers in order to communicate, and, as a result, deliver better. It focuses on magnifying and scaling design tools, methods, processes, and practices to ensure high efficiency of the design team, enhance design infrastructure across the company, and help achieve the better understanding of the value of design in the company.

Dave Malouf, the founder of Interaction Design Association (IxDa), one of the key evangelists of DesignOps and authors of DesignOps Handbook, named it “the connecting tissue, lubrication and rails that amplify the value of the design tea.”


Managing through chaos


As companies grow their businesses, the teams tend to become large, distributed and complexly structured, design solutions become more complicated, and design teams start serving more departments of a company. This leads to delay in design outputs, which puts timely product delivery at risk. Developers wonder why design processes take so long. It seems to everybody that designers are designing into the black hole.

Here comes DesignOps, which aims at scaling design functions within a large organization. DesignOps serves as a connecting link between the two parallel universes – designers and engineers, and translates the engineering requirements into the design concepts and vice versa. They enable designers to focus on the design, and leave everything else to engineers and production.

DesignOps is invaluable at mitigating inefficiencies and lack of agreement between the design team and other departments, which emerge mostly because of the poor communication processes. Eventually, everybody is in the same boat – the aim is to deliver the highest quality product to the customer.

DesignOps helps:

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Generate high-quality design and delivery outputs
  • Scale holistic design processes
  • Speed up development and delivery
  • Minimize wastage of resources
  • Remove impediments in the processes
  • Drive accountability
  • Learn quickly from mistakes
  • Balance strategy and tactics
  • Amplify the value of design contribution
  • Better utilize skills
  • Streamline work across teams

DesignOps models:

Operations support DesignOps model defines the standards of collaboration on the company level, which includes processes, tools, recruitment, budgeting that impact all departments.

Project support DesignOps model is narrowed to one specific project at a time, improving the day-to-day workflow of the design team and its communication with the stakeholders.

Rubber hits the road

The main aim of DesignOps is to make things happen in the most proper way. These guys work to ensure that the right software solutions are delivered to a customer timely, while the design team has enough space, resources and time to create.

How they do it? The territory of the DesignOps:

  • Processes. They ensure the most effective collaboration between the design team and other parts of the company.
  • Tools. They provide designers with everything they need to get the work done.
  • People. They evaluate how many people are needed in the team, recruit and make people stay.
  • Strategy. They align company’s vision and mission with the design management processes.
  • Budget. They evaluate the most reasonable budget for the healthy functioning of the design team.
  • Communication. They make designers, developers and customers understand each other.
  • Documentation. They put on paper the customer’s requirements, and message it to whom it may concern.
  • Pipeline. They manage incoming projects, distribute them between the teams, and control the teams’ workload, schedule and milestones.
  • Evangelization. They help everybody in the company understand the value the design team creates.
  • Education. They help team members develop and hone their skills.

A fast track to DesignOps

Feel your organization lacks DesignOps and want to take up the challenge? Take these basic steps for a quick start:

  • Assign the responsible person. Your design team lead or senior designer may become in charge of DesignOps.
  • Do the research and assess the existing communication and collaboration processes between the design, engineering and product teams.
  • Find out the ways on how you can improve those communication and collaboration, remove bottlenecks, and streamline operations.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of tools, software and practices, and think how you can substitute them with more effective ones.
  • Propose a plan on how to make the things considerably better.
  • Test your new approach on one project at a time in order to prove if your new way of working is actually working.

Final thoughts

DesignOps serve as project managers, creative thinkers, cross-discipline leaders. Their role is becoming more and more commonplace in large and middle-sized companies. They are hired to put all their time and efforts to coordinate the work of the design team and other teams, support operations, facilitate processes, and help mitigate workflow problems. DesignOps put the right people with the right skills on the right projects.

1 comments On Why It’s Crucial to Have DesignOps

  • Hello Sehiy, I like the article very much, well done. But I still have some open questions. For example, in the article, we see a structure for a Design Agency. In our really we are product development company, which has 8 teams with engineers, quality assurance specialists, project managers, UI/UX designers. Can you suggest an accurate model for this type of organization?

    Sometimes our UI/UX team suggesting to create their own unit, so in this case, designers are not a part of their product development teams, but a part their UI/UX community/department. What do you think? Do you see any risks connected?

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