amplifying the value of design with designops

by Luke Farrugia • 14 November 2020


To design is to solve problems. However, one of our long-standing issues is yet to be fully solved. This issue is how design teams are generally not set up for success or to scale as organisations grow. And we typically face these problems:

  • Design team partners (other disciplines) not understanding what design does, what motivates us and what we are responsible for
  • Being held to a timeframe of when something is shipping, with minimal to no design-time considered, narrowing our process, discovery and testing capacity
  • Finding time to focus our thinking on a problem space whilst juggling the needs of delivery in the current sprint
  • Re-work, multiple people, working on the same thing or reinventing the wheel

Design Operations (DesignOps) has begun to solve these problems and offers us support to amplify the value of design. Essentially, changing the narrative and providing the tools to set design teams up for success.

Being a finite resource, we often have our fingers in many pies, and as a result, stretch ourselves thin. We often find ourselves scrambling for clarity as we collaborate with our cross-functional teams, manage stakeholders, test with users, analyse data, craft experience and create sleek interfaces. All while navigating a calendar full of meetings, and bracing for the inevitable comment that design is becoming a bottleneck...

What if we had dedicated time to think deeply, validate ideas, collaborate with our cross-functional teams and help drive the business strategy from the top?

With the demand for design thinking being embedded in organisational strategy and with design leaders beginning to claim their spot on the C-suite, we have an opportunity to become the powerhouse partner we know we can.

what is designops?

DesignOps exists to amplify the value of design across an organisation with a focus on process over practice. DesignOps supports designers with consistent processes, rituals and defined expectations to deliver well thought out solutions. With a focus on operations to enable designers to do what they do best, solve problems through design.

DesignOps exists so that:

  • Designers have what they need (environment, tools, time, clarity) to be creative and happy
  • Designers are enabled to validate problems or ideas with people, resulting in confidence and stronger output
  • When cross-functional teams (Design, Product Management, Engineering and Marketing) collaborate, the design process is understood
  • Designers gain focussed thinking time, thereby enhancing team workflows and achieving useful collaboration points with their cross-functional team
  • Designers are encouraged to participate in defining and refining business strategy and vision

Design teams need the support, rituals, and defined expectations that a dedicated focus on people operations can supply.

David Malouf
IXDA, DesignOps Summit

amplifying the value of design

Designers have the ability to go deep and wide when looking at a problem space and balance the needs of users with the needs of the business and technology. In order to amplify the value of design, we must first understand how we work together, how we get work done and how that fits into the organisation's workflow. We also need to consider design pathways for career progression and how the team is structured, to allow for greater talent recruitment and designer retention.

How we work together

  • Defining the design process
  • Developing team values, rituals and mission
  • Agreeing on how we communicate (meetings and environments)
  • Ensuring we are skilled in the design tools of choice
  • Playbooks for workshops and decision making
  • Generating and maintaining a UI library in our design tools that mirrors that of the Design System
  • Adopting a Design System first mentality

How we get work done

  • Balancing workflow between Discovery and Delivery
  • Design estimation
  • Allocation of design resource
  • Documenting design decisions and rationale
  • Measuring the impact of design in behavioural and attitudinal measures
  • Definitions of done

How the team is structured

  • The design team and organisation structure
  • Position descriptions
  • Career pathways
  • Hiring and onboarding new designers
  • Professional development practices

People are messy, people grow, you need to be ready to adapt and change. Meet your team where they are, you cannot go from 0 to 100.

Anne Purves
Dir. Design Ops, Pinterest

getting designops off the ground

Within the duel of doves community, we have a bunch of designers working at a range of companies, from in-house to agency to start-up. As these design teams scale, it is the perfect time to start thinking about DesignOps and how it might enhance the discipline of design within the organisation structure. To date, we have been integrating a DesignOps approach into our 9 to 5's with great success and have found a few key things that have helped us get started.

To kick off the practice of DesignOps we found these steps to be crucial:

  • Identify problems and form initiatives
  • Prioritise based on the biggest pain points in the design team
  • Plan DesignOps activities that are manageable, achievable & measurable

Taken together, these incremental improvements not only help to sync cross-functional teams but also free up designers to focus on their craft and creativity. 

If you have any questions, comments or would like to chat, feel free to reach out via our duel of doves community.

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