DesignOps is an approach to building stronger design teams that refers to the orchestration and optimisation of people, processes, and tools in order to amplify design’s value and impact at scale.
Similar to DevOps, which has revolutionised the development process with an agile, iterative approach, DesignOps allows organisations to rapidly scale and iterate design processes across teams.
Why is DesignOps important now?
Today, organisations realise the importance of digital experiences to create more meaningful customer relationships and understand the value of designers’ creativity, empathy and innovation as part of their winning strategies. These organisations invest in building large design capabilities to imitate the success of other leaders moving at a world-changing velocity and scale. Organisations often struggle to unlock the full value of their investments, not because of the strategy or the specific designers that have been hired, but because the team has not been set up for success organisationally. This is a common challenge we see when working with customers to activate their organisation for success or innovation.
This is where DesignOps comes in. Today, design is an inclusive team sport. DesignOps is about holistically enabling high-performance collaboration between designers and their partners like engineering, marketing, business and product managers.
Design Systems Vs DesignOps
Although the two concepts may be extremely similar, they apply different frameworks to the world of front-end design.
While design systems establish a series of systems within which the design team can work with the development team, DesignOps provide standardisation for that team, allowing for consistency across the design board.
When considering the structure of a UX team it is frequently necessary, if not beneficial to utilise the expertise of outside professionals and third parties. In this sense, DesignOps can help establish a standard set of practices, processes and a set of tools that everyone within the design team can use.
Whilst a Design System applies to the process in a more conceptual sense, DesignOps can be thought of as the practical application of certain tools, documentation and processes.
Included in the standardisation provided by DesignOps are practices regarding meetings, feedback structure, file organisation and cross-channel interaction between teams. By standardising these practices, we can ensure that every single individual within the team is aware of how they are expected to execute their duties, in turn streamlining the overall design and development process.
The Benefits of DesignOps
For a design team, while there are wireframes and overall UX flows which exist, often for simplicity and practical reasons, pages and elements are designed in segmented portions. Segmenting these pages and elements is necessary for a cleaner code structure and overall ease of design, though it may eventually lead to an issue in terms of the production output of the design team.
The problem lies in the way in which the design team considers the element they are producing. Segmenting their work is important for a clean workflow, but it also adds a layer of difficulty for designers to consider the overall UX flow and the actual outcome of their design.
Segmenting these tasks for a design team means they may end up with a greater focus on their output, not their outcome.
In establishing a DesignOps practice, setting standards for feedback, interaction and expectations, companies can expect to see their design teams then think beyond the confines of their individual segmented elements and consider the entire UX flow as a whole.
Similarly, due to the creative nature of their role, a design team also has limited ability to interact with the rest of a company with the stress placed upon them in tight situations. Creativity is a tough skill to nurture, especially on-demand, meaning that often design teams work in an isolationist environment to protect their productivity and output.
With a standardised DesignOps, the design team may well feel far more integrated with the rest of the team, with an established practice on how interaction with their team internally and externally takes place.
In acquiring new members for a team, a company with an established DesignOps procedure will see a greater integration from their new starters and a faster onboarding process, with clear outlines and guidance for them to both give and receive feedback.
We want all members of the design team, both new and established, to feel like their voice is heard from all levels of the management hierarchy and all departments they communicate with, especially their continued and frequent interaction with the development team, whose application of the design teams ideas can present problems.
The benefit of establishing a DesignOps comes therefore from a number of different avenues.
- Time-saving. With established standardisation and procedures for the entire design team, we will see time being saved in many areas, from internal and cross-team communication to the simple act of searching for a particular file.
- Productivity. Tied in with time-saving, but focussed more on the constructive output of each team member, with established standardised practices for design, design team members will be able to focus on harnessing their creativity and the process they require to allow that to flow, rather than whimsically deciding their own set of practices.
- The Big Picture. With everyone on the design team able to understand the objectives and desired outcome of the end product through standardised metrics, you can expect to see designers more focussed on the user experience of the end product, as opposed to the segmented element they are designing.
An Established DesignOps
Once we have established a solid set of standards that comprises a DesignOps, we must broaden out its integration into the rest of the company. The most important part of that is the development team, who, as we know, are frequently the ones interacting with the designers.
The development team should, in an ideal world, have their own set of standardised practices (DevOps) with which DesignOps should be integrated.
Although this may seem a monumental challenge, given the sometimes contrasting nature of the disciplines and the fact that we have standardised their workflow for ease of production already, it is something that is well worth doing.
The successful integration of DesignOps and DevOps has a synergistic benefit for both of the established standard practices within the individual teams. Product managers in particular can expect to see some of the greatest improvements to their working life from the successful integration of the standardised practices.
Enhanced communication between teams ensures the overall vision and roadmap are closer adhered to, which in turn will apply a greater level of efficiency to the production and a significantly better end product. The fluidity of the process between design and development also leads to fewer bugs and issues in the workflow which can hamper the process can cause delays.
How to Create a DesignOps
As with creating a strong Design System, the specifics of implementing a quality set of standardised practices which comprise a DesignOps will slightly depend on the specific requirements of your team.
However, there are some areas that should always be taken into consideration when strategising for DesignOps.
- Hierarchy. Are roles and tasks clearly mapped out for each member of the team with complete transparency and a clear line of communication?
- Communication. Are all members of the team aware of the way in which they are expected to communicate and the appropriate channels for doing so?
- Expected Standards. Do all members of the team understand the expected standards for the work they produce?
- Goals. Are there clear goals that are understandable for the design team and can they broaden out their own work to see how it fits into the wider aims of the entire company?
- Metrics. Is the company running on the same measurement metrics for all departments?
Creating a DesignOps strategy for your team is essential in ensuring a smooth workflow for both design and development teams, greater communication and an improvement in time economy for managers.
Often lost in considering the final output of a product is the economy of time, for all members of all teams involved in the process.
For members on an individual level in the team, standardised practices help to reduce the time spent on communication, activity, the tools used and the meeting and feedback process.
For the product managers governing this, the standardisation helps free them up to focus on bigger picture ideas, instead of dealing with a host of conflicting work practices from within a single team.
WQA provides supercharged digital product development for growth driven companies around the world. Working with Startups, Scale-ups and Enterprise, we design, build and scale digital products, experiences and platforms used by millions of people.
If you want to learn more about DesignOps and how you can amplify the value of your organisation’s investment in design, you can chat to us or email us for a conversation and assessment of your unique digital context.