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designops guide

DesignOps – The Definitive Guide [Updated 2023]

Design is undoubtedly a competitive advantage for businesses. 

Product teams must execute design well if they want to provide excellent experiences. The market for design is expanding and teams are continually looking for innovative ways to simplify the design process. 

As more companies understand design maturity, they can see that they cannot change the design process without changing an organization.

To get there, businesses are veering towards Design Operations, or DesignOps, to scale design functions and create success.

DesignOps is a massive step in the right direction for businesses so it makes sense that there’s a lot to cover on the topic. This article will do its best to explain everything you need to know about DesignOps, whether you’re new to the concept, or are looking to improve existing teams.

Here are the topics we will cover in this article:

  • What is DesignOps?
  • Challenges that design teams face today
  • Why does DesignOps matter now?
  • The importance and benefits of DesignOps
  • Understanding the pillars and role of DesignOps
  • Who does DesignOps?
  • 3 businesses that have implemented DesignOps
  • Tips to help you implement DesignOps

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right into it!

What is DesignOps?

DesignOps refers to the improvement of the product’s design and commercial value through the optimization of design processes, people, and technologies. DesignOps, among other things, is a term for tackling problems such as:

  • Expanding and growing design teams
  • Hiring individuals with the appropriate talents, 
  • Establishing effective workflows, 
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of design outputs.

The term DesignOps is taken from DevOps, a collaborative method of software development and systems administration that places importance on speed, efficiency, and automation.

DesignOps stresses efficiency, just as DevOps does, and its main objective is to make sure that designers are free to focus on their profession, enabling design to have a bigger organizational influence.

A few years back, the NN Group proposed a simple and elegant model that we could all use to easily understand the purpose of DesignOps and follow what it aims to achieve.

designops

It consists of a trio that addresses:

  • How we work together – Collaborate and organize
  • How we get work done – Standardize and manage
  • How our work creates impact – Measure and communicate

If you can orchestrate and optimize your team, data, and activities to make this flywheel function, you’ll have a design system that will perform for all of your projects and for anyone you deliver it to, whether it be internal stakeholders or an external customer.

You can head over to our article on successfully adopting design systems to learn more about this.

Most importantly, however, DesignOps is an organizational mindset that informs design-centric roles to facilitate creative excellence.

Challenges that design teams face today

To understand why DesignOps was ever needed in the first place, we need to look at the challenges that almost all design teams face that have facilitated the establishment of DesignOps within an organization.

  • Designers operate in silos. The design department frequently operates independently of other divisions like engineering and marketing. A design approach where each member of the design team works alone is not very efficient.
  • No defined professional routes exist in design. Very few companies offer well-developed career paths for designers. Designer career routes are frequently matched to developer career paths.
  • Design is frequently viewed as a stage in the production of a product. Instead of playing a strategic role, designers are forced into production roles.
  • There has been an increase in the complexity of design tools and solutions. As design tools get increasingly sophisticated, it takes more time for designers to learn how to use them.
  • There is no definitive specialization. Many companies still demand that their designers serve in multiple capacities; they think that designers should not only be designers but also project managers, creative leaders, and advocates for good design. However, these additional responsibilities limit the amount of time a designer may spend on their main task—designing.
  • Deliverability is still the most crucial indicator of success. If a product is delivered on time, that is a good indicator of product design (meeting deadlines).

These challenges have led to design teams facing a lot of friction in the design process, forcing the need for change that allows them to streamline their work.

Why does DesignOps matter now?

Changes are taking place in how designers collaborate and communicate with one another as well as with other teams, and these changes are highlighting the importance of DesignOps.

Many businesses no longer need to be persuaded of the significance of design since designers are becoming more and more involved in broad, strategic discussions.

Unfortunately, this recognition frequently results in designers having to manage extra work in addition to developing and researching, meaning designers don’t have the time to design.

To add to this, designers nowadays are juggling more intricate contexts than ever before. 

As embedded product- or project-specific team structures become more popular among organizations, there is an increasing disconnect between designers who are dispersed throughout those teams.

Because our teams are frequently split across different places and our designs are getting more complex, workflows and decision-making are becoming more fragmented.

The common root of this problem – creative bottlenecks and inefficiencies – is being addressed with the aid of DesignOps.

Companies require DesignOps more and more as their need for design increases. Until you try it, you won’t realize what you’re missing. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s impossible to picture life without it.

We need to scale design by incorporating our own design-thinking and user-centered methodologies into design processes in order to manage rapidly increasing design complexities.

Want to learn more about everything there is to design thinking? Here’s a detailed guide for you.

This is why the technique is adopted by companies like Airbnb and Pinterest and their internal teams – to produce distinctive designs at the scale that the market requires.

The importance and benefits of DesignOps

To go forward with their goals, developers had to wait for designers to finish their jobs under the old waterfall development model of product development. 

Creating a DesignOps attitude among employees is a great strategy to avoid using obsolete business procedures and enhance product performance.

As a result, emphasis is placed on designers and developers collaborating to construct an iterative and collaborative strategy for producing the greatest product. 

By coordinating diverse teams with the organization’s product objectives, DesignOps further fosters collaboration among all design stakeholders.

Many businesses have full-time DesignOps leadership to make sure that the processes are continuously upheld by all organizational stakeholders.

Even when it isn’t required, establishing a DesignOps philosophy and framework alone benefits enterprises to

  • Consistently expand,
  • Adapt to increasing demand,
  • Make the appropriate hires,
  • Create streamlined, effective processes, and
  • Improve the results’ effect and quality.

Here are the results you can expect if you switch to using DesignOps as your main product design driver.

benefits of designops

Streamlined product development

An efficient framework reduces bureaucracy and complexity in the product cycle, streamlines product development, gets rid of redundancy, and provides a common design language for use by all organizational actors.

Product designers, developers, and other teams can speak the same design language throughout the product cycle with the aid of a well-designed DesignOps strategy.

It also encourages the use of consistent grids, typography, colors, and styles across all product teams to ensure design consistency.

Here’s more on how DesignOps can help you achieve design consistency.

Transparent design process

The results of the design process are greatly influenced by transparency. Streamlined DesignOps fill the communication gap between design actors and improve process consistency throughout the ecosystems of product firms.

DesignOps is particularly beneficial when numerous remote teams and non-remote design teams collaborate on a product-by-product basis, where there is usually a lack of transparency. 

For the best results in this situation, effective communication and transparency are essential.

Lack of transparency will eventually result in mismatched designs, inaccurate branding, and the sourcing of various aspects and parts for product creation.

On the other hand, DesignOps offers everything designers require as a single source of truth for output consistency. Designers frequently collaborate to establish design consistency and are always kept informed of the progress of other teams.

Enhanced, collaborative design teams

Putting together a team of highly qualified design professionals does not guarantee high-quality results. The capacity of each member of a design team to work together to create the best results is a crucial component determining the success of the team.

When relying on collaboration amongst product teams that are routinely scaling, achieving these aspects can become increasingly challenging.

How can your design team maintain communication and productivity while expanding with new hires? 

The solution is DesignOps. You give all teams the framework they need to adhere to through DesignOps. 

Businesses can predefine control over the organizational structures that everyone uses, and the DesignOps system makes sure that everyone remains within the parameters of the business’s vision.

Teams are becoming more collaborative, and with the creation of design playbooks for design processes, new hires are integrated into design teams almost immediately.

When working with designers or teams who are spread out geographically, collaboration amongst teams can be particularly challenging. In these situations, ineffective communication impedes workflow and decision-making.

These worries are lessened by a well-planned DesignOps strategy and a universal design language for all stakeholders.

Better resource allocation

Better resource allocation for products is made possible by DesignOps, including assigning the ideal amount of designers to a given project and developing backup plans for increased resource allocation during various project stages. 

Effective resource management enhances the project’s outcome in the long run since each stage of the process is planned and every resource needed is allotted in advance.

Targeted design strategy

How you communicate direction and intent in regard to your bigger business goals depends heavily on your strategy.

Your products, services, and experiences must change or evolve through time in order to meet consumer demands and company objectives.

DesignOps establishes a focused design strategy that complements your overall business goals and, in essence, combines what customers value and what businesses can profit from.

It ensures that your team produces the materials needed for your business to achieve the same level of success as its customers.

If you want to learn more about it, head over to our article on how to create a design strategy.

Understanding the pillars and role of DesignOps

The team responsible for managing the design process within an organization is called DesignOps. Depending on the size of the company, this team may consist of only one person or a whole department.

Establishing a highly effective design process that produces high-quality design outputs is the main objective of DesignOps. Benefits from DesignOps accrue to everyone participating in the design process, not just the designers.

If you take a step back and look at the whole picture, you’ll notice that there are four key elements of an organization that DesignOps focuses on.

four pillars of designops

Let’s take a quick dip into each of them.

Design process

Workflow streamlining is a major objective of DesignOps teams. When a DesignOps department begins to revamp design processes, they typically follow a few standard procedures.

  • Determine an existing process’s crucial holes and weaknesses.
  • Create a workflow optimization approach for designers in an effort to increase engagement and minimize duplication of labor.
  • Platform-wide design language unification. Designers can establish design consistency throughout all platforms with the use of a single language.
  • Establish precise success measures of design RoI and make sure designers follow them, most of which are design metrics that are chosen according to the objectives of the business.
  • Create a detailed plan for design delivery. Determine who and when should view the work.
  • Maintain proper meeting decorum. Trim any meetings that are not necessary to reduce the overall number of meetings, and improve the effectiveness of those that are still held.

Design team building

The business facets of design are another responsibility of the DesignOps function. The following activities are carried out by them:

  • Budgeting. How much does it cost to run a design team, and why. Transparency in resource allocation is the objective.
  • DesignOps is in charge of hiring new employees as well. Teams in DesignOps assist in resource management and workload forecasting. They can help set recruiting requirements because they are aware of the number of people and skill sets required for a specific design process.
  • DesignOps frees up designers so they can focus on design work rather than administrative tasks like hiring and budgeting.

Design culture

The fundamental component that keeps design teams content and productive is design culture. Because of this, one of the objectives of DesignOps teams is to invest in codifying an inclusive design culture within an organization.

The following steps are involved in creating a design culture:

  • Education – A design team’s skills gaps are identified by DesignOps, which also suggests ways to fill them. 
  • Retention – DesignOps prevent the turnover of designer resources by fostering an atmosphere where employees desire to stay for a longer time.
  • Exchange of knowledge – They foster an environment where team members generously impart their knowledge to others.
  • Accountability – It is their duty to hold the designer accountable.

Design tools

Additionally, DesignOps decides which tools design teams require for effective operation.

They introduce new tools, platforms, and systems, standardize the ones already in use, and ensure that designers use them to their full potential.

Who is DesignOps for?

Technically, anyone can do DesignOps, and it is crucial to note that it isn’t solely for design teams. Considering that DesignOps is a mindset, it is only effective when the concept is inculcated throughout the whole organization.

With that said, there are two ways in which you can look at DesignOps to understand who it applies to – DesignOps as a role and DesignOps as a mindset.

DesignOps as a role

When someone or a team is assigned the role of DesignOps, they are responsible for making sure the design team is supported so it may concentrate on designing or doing research.

Common DesignOps responsibilities in more established practices include

  • Design or UX program managers – Those in charge of design operations at the program or organizational level
  • Design or UX producers – Those involved in project-level design operations
  • ResearchOps specialists – Those in charge of managing the operational facets of user research, including recruiting and screening participants, managing the research request pipeline, upholding a research repository, and overseeing the management of research tools, spaces, and equipment.

DesignOps as a mindset

Overall, any team may gain from adopting a DesignOps attitude, which is nothing more than identifying the need for and putting in place an ecosystem, or a collection of standardized procedures, techniques, and tools that support and enable design to scale effectively.

To observe existing processes with a view toward improving outputs and enhancing efficiency, no position explicitly related to DesignOps is necessary.

3 businesses that have successfully implemented DesignOps

The true value of anything is understood with proof. Let’s take a look at 3 major brands that have benefited from implementing DesignOps within their culture.

Airbnb

The work done in this area by Airbnb has brought attention to the necessity for specialized design process teams.

When asked about their expansion prior to the addition of the new team, Adrian Cleave, director of DesignOps at Airbnb, remarked that the loose structure that had previously allowed them to keep pace was not stable as they scaled, and new issues surfaced. Information accessibility, design standards, workstream conflicts, and quality challenges all developed into very real issues.

It was necessary for Airbnb to look at DevOps as an example in order to find a framework that addressed these issues. A powerful set of tools for centralizing design processes had to be developed using the DevOps concepts of collaboration, cultural change, and automation (DesignOps).

DesignOps evolved into a team with the goal of influencing user experience across all of their digital platforms. The DesignOps department at Airbnb now consists of five distinct teams that oversee operational strategy, the design process, the development of design tools, quality control, and employee satisfaction.

Pinterest

Design is a focus for the company because its co-founders, Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann, were both designers before becoming successful with the online pinboard.

The company saw fast growth between 2014 and 2017, which included a 650% increase in designers (from 10 to 75) and the hiring of a multicultural international workforce. Pinterest consulted DesignOps in order to handle this scale-up.

Senior design professionals make up the majority of the team, which works as a unit to solve problems. They jointly decide on every DesignOps choice, including which tools to use or forgo and how to develop a fresh strategy for a looming obstacle.

Pinterest’s Head of Design Operations, Meredith Black, summed up the function of DesignOps as allowing designers to focus on their work while someone else handles project management, resourcing, and other administrative tasks.

Designers need assistance with all of those really crucial components so they can actually concentrate on what they do best, which is design.

Spotify

For various audiences and on various platforms, Spotify employs designers working in various locations. Additionally, they place a high priority on autonomy and urge teams to come up with creative solutions to difficulties.

Designers frequently work alone in teams and are divided not just by oceans but also by land. As is the DesignOps principle, Spotify shares the belief that cross-discipline teams are the greatest setting for design to help integrate user-centered thinking throughout all aspects of their organization.

However, under a decentralized model, designers might miss interacting with one another and the solid cultural ties that a centralized model promotes. 

Design operations had a significant part in this and their design operations staff provides support to hundreds of designers in five different countries. 

They created connections by bringing designers together in a variety of ways, such as organizing regular social events, the use of their tools, and implementing skill-building initiatives. 

As a result, they came up with three key elements that serve as the foundation of their DesignOps team – culture & community, learning & inspiration, and tools & systems.

5 tips to help you implement DesignOps

There are numerous potential target areas for DesignOps methods because there are so many design-team difficulties in reality. Teams looking to make their initial investment in DesignOps may find the wide range of potential entry points overwhelming.

So here are 5 tips that you can follow if you want to get started with implementing DesignOps within your organization.

implement designops

Create a common single source of truth

You and the entire digital product team (including marketers, project managers, and developers) will be able to manage estimations, planning, and tracking silos, comprehend design and development specs, and keep track of tasks and progress more clearly as a result of this.

As part of the DesignOps strategy, everyone can easily correspond their work and tasks, test and give feedback on prototypes in real-time, reduce expensive iterations, keep track of progress, eliminate design handovers, and identify bottlenecks with a fixed working ecosystem for managers, developers, designers, and even stakeholders.

Additionally, the instant situational awareness of end customers, project timelines, design specifications, features, and behaviors would be advantageous to the entire digital product team.

However, remember that the structure can vary depending on the business.

Have a dedicated DesignOps person

A designer who can manage every procedure and task does not exist because they would be handling everything but the real design.

Design is a multifaceted job that calls for several seasoned experts in specific domains. A specialized DesignOps person is required, just as there needs to be a distinction between UX and UI design with two separate professionals managing each.

He or she will be accountable for

  • Forecasting and resource management
  • Recruiting designers with the appropriate skill set
  • Identifying and communicating design guidelines.
  • Allotting appropriate DesignOps resources
  • Identifying the most important gaps between current procedures and improvement strategies
  • Assisting to create a design culture that is more productive

Remember once more that the requirements, advantages, and disadvantages of a certain organization, as well as the digital product or service that the team is now developing, will determine the role of the DesignOps specialist.

Nurture communication and promote collaboration

When a prototype is abandoned and the entire process must start over, this wastes time, money, and effort, and prolongs the process.

Ensure your team engages in collaborative innovation that everyone participates in, including stakeholders, to avoid this and create much more effective DesignOps. This speeds up the design process and cuts down on the amount of time needed for design development.

In order to explore and test various concepts, the team can typically work in design sprints that incorporate designers and stakeholders early on in the process.

If you want to learn more about how DesignOps enables the design sprint process, here’s an article for you.

In this way, stakeholders can serve as users who test how functional the product is, providing a new and impartial perspective, while developers can communicate potential concerns based on designs. Designers can also benefit from direct insights into how design elements translate to a web, mobile, or desktop app.

Master the measuring of design standards

Working with meaningful insights and data that affect how you conceptualize and build your next digital product is the single biggest value-optimizer there is.

Making data analytics a component of DesignOps will therefore result in better designs, a better user experience, and even help you stay up to date with emerging design trends.

Create a DesignOps roadmap

By incorporating techniques into a DesignOps roadmap, create a launch schedule for the created initiatives.

In order to ensure that DesignOps projects are seamlessly connected with other planned activities, it is best to leverage whatever roadmapping tool or software your teams already use.

A roadmap guarantees that people in charge of overseeing DesignOps operations can deliver value as intended, within an achievable time frame.

To wrap up…

The bridge that allows cross-disciplinary team members to work together and the glue that ties the design organization together is DesignOps.

In an environment where design teams continue to expand in size, UX task requests keep rising, design-team members are dispersing, and the complexity of our design processes skyrockets, DesignOps cannot be an afterthought. Rather, it should be a necessity.

You must carefully and purposefully plan out how you collaborate, complete your tasks, and make an impact.

Cubyts’ DesignOps Platform is designed for design experts and leaders to eliminate inefficiencies in the design workflow, establish design processes, run design projects, and track metrics. In other words, it is your all-around DesignOps platform.

If you have any questions or are looking at jumping into the DesignOps space, feel free to get in touch with us!