DesignOps is a shortened version of the term Design Operations.
According to one of the most basic definitions of DesignOps, the term refers to activities aimed at coordinating, harmonizing, structuring, and optimizing digital product work and design processes. The idea is to make the work (of UX/UI designers, among others) as efficient, smooth, and seamless as possible. In short, it aims at designing the organizational structure of design teams.
The design of useful digital products depends highly on the flow of activities, operations, and processes. Continuous disruption of them harms the result.
When we talk about operations, we mean the tools and the infrastructure necessary for design teams' work. When we talk about processes, we mean the knowledge, experience, feedback, tasks, goals, and resources flow.
Operations and processes are, in many cases, the weakest link in the work of digital product design teams.
Understanding their nature, characteristics, requirements, constraints, and opportunities allows you to select an appropriate method for them (e.g., Scrum, Lean, Agile).
Therefore, DesignOps aims to maintain the high quality of digital products by focusing on efficiency and disruption of the digital product designers' work. This is extremely important, especially for large projects, where losing control of a process or operations is easy.
A growing team of designers, UX researchers, and UX/UI writers, lack of clearly defined roles, responsibilities, accountability, communication problems, and competency deficits significantly impact the quality of a digital product.
What is DesignOps?
DesignOps emerged from the DevOps (Development and Operations) methodology, which has been in development since 2009.
Its goal is to obtain and develop a better organization of the work of development teams.
Thanks to DevOps, various methods have been developed over the years to maintain optimal coordination, consistency, and efficiency.
Having its foundation in a commonly used methodology, DesignOps is focused on coordinating the work of UX designers, UI designers, UX researchers, and UX writers. It focuses on synchronizing processes and the optimal use of time and design tools.
Both approaches involve agile, iterative, and rapid process management for digital product design teams.
Thus, DesignOps is as interested in building efficient and functional teams as in the outcome of their work. It would be no exaggeration to say that DesignOps serves to increase the automation of processes.
The DesignOps team organizes workshops to improve design teams' work and provide them with professional and emotional support.
The developed patterns of activities, in the form of standards, make the work of UX/UI designers, UX researchers, UX writers, and information architecture designers more reasonable and understandable, with clearly defined stages, goals, functions, and roles.
Why is the implementation of DesignOps so important?
Operations and processes that are not coordinated and controlled generate unnecessary costs and increase the time to create digital products.
The faster an organization or project grows, the more problematic this regularity becomes.
With the scale of the project, solutions, activities, and operations become more complex.
DesignOps allows you to deal with these problems, and most importantly, it allows you to deal with productivity and quality of work.
DesignOps allows you to optimize:
- Organization of work in teams and between teams
- Tools, working methods, and processes
- Scale design
- Relieve designers of digital products from organizational work.
It provides a practical answer to what individual UX/UI designers and design teams need to complete a task or a project.
It allows you to find the answer to the question of what tools and infrastructure they need to work efficiently and satisfactorily.
The work of UX/UI designers, writers, researchers, and information architects is extremely sensitive in terms of evaluation, the flow of information, its meaning, and its importance.
That is why it is essential to have a broader perspective to see:
- What the team is currently working on
- What kind of problems it faces
- How the communication flows and what problems it raises
- Whether the goals are common, understood in the same way, and pursued with the same methodologies
- Sources of knowledge and differences in understanding it
- The blurring of roles and responsibilities
- Heterogeneous definitions of success
- Consistency of actions with adopted priorities
- Whether the project is oriented to the users' needs of the digital product.
The scope of DesignOps – what do Design Operations managers do?
DesignOps managers have an extensive scope of activities. The design operations manager acts as a bridge between the design team and the company.
They approach the design work in a multidimensional way and are responsible for:
- Budget of the project, in which they specify the cost of the project and the need to involve individual specialists in a certain amount of time
- Competence development that they achieve through education and planned knowledge transfer
- Raising the organization's awareness of project tasks, their meaning, purpose, and the value they bring
- Infrastructure – they take care of providing the right tools; in particular, they are concerned about their efficiency, usability, relevance, and whether they are up-to-date
- Managing projects over time – they are responsible for scheduling work in different time horizons
- Workflow – its coordination, optimization, consistency, rationality, and efficiency
- Retention of employees and customers – they are responsible for developing rules, principles, norms, a culture that translates into job satisfaction, and the willingness of employees and customers to tie their professional and business future to the organization
- Managing the stages of work by indicating its scope, phases, rhythm, and how to evaluate progress
- Development and expansion of teams with new specialists and new team members and their implementation in a project.
DesignOps is used at the level of entire organizations, as well as on a narrower scope – of projects and design teams responsible for them.
From the first perspective, its goal is to make the entire organization more efficient. From the second, the focus is on a specific project and team; although the overall perspective is also important, it is not the most essential in this case.
DesignOps managers are also responsible for setting quality standards, defining values, identifying strategic goals, and discovering market advantages.
In other words, they also focus on optimizing the work from the point of view of its market competitiveness, embodying the organization's mission.
What are the benefits of DesignOps?
DesignOps, like DevOps, is undoubtedly not a fleeting style that will disappear when a new management trend emerges.
The productivity of the work of design team members and development team members and their quality directly translates into the market position of any organization.
This is no different for companies such as software development companies or UX agencies, where the quality of the design teams largely determines the market position.
Proper coordination of work influences:
- Quality of the digital product being created (e.g., code, compliance of design projects with the expectations of future users)
- The satisfaction of the owner of the digital product and its users.
What does DesignOps consist of?
Optimization of design work primarily requires answering questions regarding:
- Quality of cooperation
- Method of work
- Results and impacts that the work has on co-workers.
Paying attention to the means and quality of cooperation allows you to look at the relationship between roles, specializations, tasks, and competencies, as well as capture the impact of structure and processes on it.
In particular, it is essential to pay attention to the range of competencies, experiences, and skills, their complementarity, and project utility.
Understood, in general, as a particular potential, and particularistically, as a set of qualities that allow you to conduct a specific project.
How the work is done applies to more extensive issues such as environment, atmosphere, and work culture, which are mainly responsible for the relationship between professionals working together.
Work culture should be understood in a multifaceted way. It is not only a set of formal and implicit rules that set the framework of the work and determine its course and rhythm but also a form of achieving goals.
Work culture is also how employees perceive their work – its purpose, usefulness, and meaning, and how they define their agency, importance, opportunities for contribution, and growth.
The structure of tasks, duties, roles, a hierarchy of authority, rituals, and norms – and therefore all organizational issues – encourage or, on the contrary, discourage employees from getting involved in a project.
It is worth remembering that standardizing conditions, standards, processes, and tools makes the work more consistent, predictable, and understandable. Standardization is also recommended to document design processes and define goals and activities.
The harmonization of the project process is mainly based on developing a shared, common platform of knowledge, understanding, definition, and procedure. It also includes prioritizing tasks and objectives.
No work of a single specialist and the entire team remains without impacting other specialists and the organization.
DesignOps offers methods for measuring work performance and project quality and selecting the most accurate indicators and metrics.
The work results of individual designers and teams can be determined using classic metrics, for example, Return on Investment (ROI) or Retention Rate (of employees and customers).
The dimension of impact, of course, is not just about efficiency and its measures. It also refers to the issue of "promoting" knowledge and beliefs regarding the importance, role, and value of design processes. Not only that, but it also includes education in the form of training, tutorials, and models.
Who is responsible for DesignOps?
Two approaches dominate the literature, according to which DesignOps is:
- A function and a role (DesignOps the Role)
- A mindset (DesignOps the Mindset).
The first variant refers to a specific person (or DesignOps team) responsible for implementing and maintaining accepted standards, norms, patterns, goals, metrics, and indicators.
This person can be an appointed designer or a person not directly involved in the design process – an external DesignOps manager.
In turn, DesignOps understood as a specific mindset, means the ability to diagnose needs and match them with solutions, tools, and methods to support the design process.
This attitude fosters an organizational culture, a work culture that influences immediate and long-term effectiveness.
DesignOps in the second variant (DesignOps the Mindset) will unfortunately not be sufficient for large projects with dozens of employees working together, divided into several design teams.
With such large projects, coordination of work by appointed individuals is necessary, in fact, essential, just as it is necessary to use design systems to achieve design integrity.
Who should be on a DesignOps team?
1. DesignOps Manager
They are responsible for managing design team members and the entire team's workflow. They refine processes, work with other departments, and communicate with stakeholders.
2. Program Manager
Their responsibilities, among others, include defining objectives, keeping an eye for key performance indicators, and indicating best practices.
A producer collects design requirements, leads meetings, determines timelines, and develops design standards.
4. Design Lead
They are responsible for the quality of the design team's work, and they provide the necessary support and focus on improving the efficiency of the design process.
5. Design Manager
They have similar responsibilities to the DesignOps Manager. They are there to share the responsibility and support the DesignOps Manager.
6. Research Ops Lead
They deal with recruiting participants for research, choosing research tools, and are generally responsible for everything that involves UX research.
How does DesignOps influence UI/UX Design?
The most significant advantage of implementing DesignOps is:
- Standardization of results
- Prioritization of tasks and objectives
- Maintaining project consistency.
From the point of view of the User Experience, the last two advantages are of particular importance, as they make it possible to make the User Experience an important goal to achieve. They make it visible.
Let's remember that increasing the role, functions, and benefits of user-centered design has a visible impact on the finished product.
Thus, DesignOps and design operations management allow you to guide, control effectively, evaluate design processes, and reduce and eliminate design errors (overlooked User Experience issues), shortcomings (lack of consistency), or defects.
Looking at the justification of the use of DesignOps from the point of view of User Experience, it is worth being aware of the direct impact of the organization of work and teams on the final quality of the digital product.
The User Experience of digital products, without an agile, coordinated, cohesive team, will never be as good as it could be.
Often, as a result of the chaos prevailing in a project, User Experience becomes its "first victim."
A multi-person, haphazardly created, dispersed, and uncoordinated team (design team) cannot deliver a project that considers users' needs.
Their omission in the prevailing chaos seems appropriate. Unfortunately, it is easier for teams to consider them insignificant than to fight for their inclusion in work.
Sacrificing a perspective focused on the customer and their satisfaction reduces the value of the product. It impacts its market position, competitiveness, and market potential.
DesignOps is also, in such situations, a specific working philosophy that values the perspective of a designer and a user.
It becomes an approach that raises awareness, sensitizes, and makes the team more mature and ready to achieve more complex project goals.
It supports creativity and good User Experience design practices.