DesignOps: The Questions You’re Probably Asking Yourself Now

A 5-min guide to the topic all your designer friends are talking about

As design teams start to scale in size (and the design process in complexity) our industry turns the spotlight to DesignOps: a new nomenclature for an old profession that is becoming increasingly important for every company seeking to create great, consistent, and efficient work.

So we decided to put together a quick guide for you to be in the know.

1. So… what is DesignOps?

It is the department (or single person) that plans, defines, and manages the design process within an organization. Their goal is to ensure the design team becomes a well-oiled machine, functioning at high efficiency, low friction, and generating high-quality design outputs. And most importantly: they help figure out the way the design team will release the product of their work back into the development cycle.

2. What is the origin of DesignOps?

The term DesignOps (or DesOps) has been around for at least 3 years, and is clearly a spin on DevOps (although the scope of DevOps is way broader). Even before the term DesignOps came about, the role itself already existed. Back in the day, it was the title given to PMs that were more focused on processes than projects.

Devops versus “DeSops”: One letter makes all the difference.I’ve been exploring the convergence of multiple best practices, frameworks, standards, and concepts to resolve the…

3. What do DesignOps people do?

Their overall goal is to keep the design team healthy, running smoothly and efficiently. To achieve that, they take care of a few different aspects of a team:

They can operate at company-level and project-level. The former is about looking at design staffing holistically; the latter is about understanding each project’s specific needs and challenges, to adapt all the aforementioned pieces accordingly.

Six months as a DesignOps managerMy experience in the role, so far.

4. Why are people talking about DesignOps now?

Because design teams are growing. The role of design within organizations is growing. The number of internal teams designers serve is growing. Multi-office work, remote work, and distributed teams are growing. The complexity of the design process is growing. The technical sophistication of the products we build is also growing.

While not much has changed in terms of what DesignOps is and what it does, you are certainly going to hear about it more often as design teams grow.

Why our industry is paying more attention to Design Ops in 2018Where design is a standalone entity and creative delivery stalls, the commercial and cultural impact across the…

5. Does my company need a DesignOps person?

Let me start with an important distinction here.

There’s DesignOps-the-mindset, and there’s DesignOps-the-role.

Every design team with more than 1 person needs some form of DesignOps thinking, simply because you want to make sure designers are not working in silos. If you’re looking for higher quality and efficiency in your design process, it’s important that your designers share the same tools, templates, and workflow, for example. Making sure there is a clear naming structure for files and folders, for example, will end up saving you time when you need to go back and find an old file in your servers.

Having a “DesignOps mindset” in your team is important, no matter how big your company is. It creates efficiencies in the long run, and generates more consistent work.

Now, whether you need to hire a dedicated DesignOps person? Well, that’s a different question.You’re probably going to need one when your design team headcount surpasses 40–50 designers; sometimes earlier, if your team structure is too fragmented; sometimes later, if team managers already take on that responsibility.

6. Is the DesignOps a designer?

In a lot of cases, yes. DesignOps professionals can also come from Project Management, Operations, Product — but they can only become DesignOps because they really understand what it takes to create great design work.

The “Ops” in the name can be misleading, because people in operational positions are not just operational.

Their work is to design. “They design operational and business processes like project intake, staffing and resource allocations, spreadsheets, logistics, you name it. All of these things have to be well thought out, documented, tested and put in practice all with the objective of meeting the needs of the people involved. They know the output as well as you do.” — Almitra Inocencio

I’m sorry, but Design Ops is not newAnd those who specialize in it are more than just “meeting shields.”

7. What makes a great DesignOps person?

Organization. Clear understanding of design processes in various shapes and sizes. Soft skills, like negotiation and empathy. Clear understanding of what it takes to create solid design work (as well as an aligned definition of what “solid design work” means).

8. Should DesignOps code?

Just kidding.

“DesignOps is not a new design department. It’s ‘how’ interfaces between design, product, engineering are managed. Also DesignOps is about creating a culture of user centricity and agility over time. It puts design not as just another step along the way, but as a continuous ritual of handovers and feedback. — Gus Correia

9. How can I incorporate DesignOps thinking into my own team?

Read answer #3.

10. So is DesignOps the same as Design Manager or Head of Design?

DesignOps-the-mindset, yes. DesignOps-the-role, no. For decades, Design Managers have been responsible for figuring out workflow, tools, governance, headcount, pipeline, etc.. But they have been doing that as part of their broader duties as team leaders, without attaching “Ops” to their title. As design teams scale, DesignOps-the-role represents a dedicated person that can be more focused and go in more depth on each of the aspects that makes a team successful.

It’s important to note the difference between DesignOps/Design Manager and Head of Design/Design Director though. While a Design Manager might take care of the operational aspects that will keep the team running efficiently, a Head of Design will be responsible for the higher-level design vision within that company. What does the company see as great design? And how can design help the company achieve its broader mission?

Additional resources:

This article was originally published on Fabricio’s Medium page.

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Design Director at Work & Co, Founder of UX Collective

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