The role of design operations, also known as DesignOps, is becoming more and more important as the fields of design and technology become increasingly integrated. It primarily refers to the practice of developing a more efficient design workflow process in organizations.
What is DesignOps?
Longtime DesignOps consultant Dave Malouf uses what he calls “the front of house/back of house metaphor” as a way to frame DesignOps. Front of house refers to the customer’s experience with a product. In DesignOps, the designer plays an essential role in creating a better user experience. The designer is responsible for developing more user-friendly products that create value for the customer. The back of house refers to the tools and processes that support the designers and the team as they create an improved user experience.
A major benefit of DesignOps is it helps organizations efficiently improve the design of their products and make these improved versions available to their customers more quickly.
Why DesignOps is important
What are some other reasons why DesignOps is important for scaling product design in organizations? As Dave explains, “our teams are getting larger, our problem spaces are getting larger, things are more intricate and complex, not just with the solutions we’re providing to users, but also the way we’re providing them.”
As teams grow, as technology advances and potential problems become more complex, being able to effectively provide solutions to users becomes increasingly challenging. Talent alone is not enough to address these challenges—there needs to be an operations system in place to provide better value to the customer.
“Companies need to make sure work is coordinated and visible. DesignOps plays a critical role in this.”
Kristin Skinner, the Executive Director of Design Management at Chase, pointed out that more and more companies are investing in design. Due to this rapid growth, organizations need to implement a system to make sure everyone is working efficiently and has the necessary skills to perform their roles effectively.
She explained that companies need to “make sure the work is coordinated and visible, and that we’re managing up, across, and down at all times. DesignOps plays a critical role in this.”
Design systems and governance
So where exactly do design teams fit in the organization? There is really no single answer to this question. While DesignOps teams are sometimes part of marketing departments, Kristin explains this can vary depending on the organization.
According to Dave, there is some degree of overlap between Project Management and DesignOps. It’s essential to have design program managers or project managers involved in the operations of your design team.
But at the same time, design operations can “be much more broad,” incorporating many different departments and teams. He advised identifying current shortcomings in your organization’s design team and seeing what roles need to be filled. Then you need to take into account who the best person is for the role, or who you can bring in to make sure the necessary tasks are being accomplished.
Best practices for onboarding and maintaining design consistency
When setting up a DesignOps team, Kristin recommends that all heads of design have a partner to facilitate the onboarding process. This partner can help the new design manager learn about the many different teams and departments in the company, “to help map the landscape of the organization.”
The partner can also bring the design leader up to date on the strengths and challenges the organization is currently confronting. They can help the design leader to develop goals and milestones that benefit the organization, as well as establishing practices to ensure those goals are met.
“Without an operations partner, there can be chaos.”
It’s incredibly difficult for one person to accomplish all these steps alone—especially if the person is a new hire trying to get acclimated to the new environment. As Aarron said, “Without an operations partner, there can be chaos.”
When hiring a new DesignOps leader, find someone who is analytical but also good at connecting with people. The leader needs to be able to communicate with people from many different teams, including design, IT, and legal, and to find common ground between them.
At the same time, the leader needs to be able to keep the organization’s main goals in mind and effectively communicate them to the different teams. Kristin also stresses that the leader needs to have a “genuine desire to make things better for the organization.”
Why should organizations use tools to make sure they are effectively measuring progress over time?
Much of the field of design is geared toward improving user experience, and for this reason you need some measures to access your customers’ pain points.
The specific tools will vary by organization, but Dave advises using a variety of established measures, or developing your own. The idea is to understand your customers’ pain points so you can take action to reduce them by designing a better product.
In addition, tooling is important for helping designers understand the quality of their performance. They need to know if they are collaborating effectively, and if their products are successful.
Above all, Dave believes tools are effective for helping designers “see how their performance impacts business.”
DesignOps is ultimately concerned with supporting designers so that they can develop products that provide excellent value to customers and reflect positively on your brand. Kristin summed up the role of DesignOps like this: We’re making things better for the team doing the work. In the end it’s about supporting the team and individuals on the team to do their best work.”
You can listen to the full recording to learn more about the role of DesignOps and how it can benefit your organization.