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What is Design Operations

During the last few months, when meeting with customers seeking to elevate their businesses through design, we’ve had many fruitful conversations about Design Operations (or DesignOps). What it is and how it helps businesses. So this blog in which we attempt to explain the term as simply as possible, is inspired by those conversations.

DesignOps is everything but design. Keep designers focused on the work, and let DesignOps handle the rest."

– Meredith Black / Design Ops Consultant & Industry Pioneer

Thus the goal of Design Operations is to combine the practices, philosophies, and tools that increase an organization's ability to design products and services efficiently and effectively.

The idea of DesignOps is to help designers focus on design by making sure that: 

  1. The design team has the needed tools, budget and political leverage to improve their work capabilities. (Business Operations)
  2. The workflow inside the design team and between other departments has a minimum amount of friction. (Workflow Operations)
  3. Individuals in the team have defined career paths, goals and rituals for the design team (People Operations)

Dave Malouf: DesignOps Handbook

DesignOps will hence help your organization maximize its design investments. And vice versa; without Design Operations, there's the risk that designers will soon be too busy to design.

On the other hand, without DesignOps, especially when several designers, developers, marketers, and other roles are working towards a specific outcome, the risk of inefficiency is high. When not orchestrating their work, it’s more likely they'll spend unnecessary time jumping between tools and platforms, searching for the newest version, collecting feedback and making sure they actually noticed the latest comment etc. The bigger the team the more all the hassle will have a negative impact on the whole organization competitivity.

DesignOps also measures the impact of design

Companies who best utilize design grow their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts  (McKinsey). So we would like to emphasize the importance of measuring the design impact. As we all know, the ROI of design is not always clear to the management especially in companies whose design maturity is low. Thus, tracking metrics over time and across projects is the only way to prove ROI and assure that the company will invest more in design. 

The role of the Design Operation lead

Design Ops means planning and managing design so the leaders in design operations are responsible for example in managing projects, budgets, and hiring. They are not necessarily designing themselves. Instead, they focus on improving the quality of the designs being produced by allowing designers to do what they do best: design. 

Test your organization Design Maturity

As we've been building and leading design teams in product and service companies and in design firms for the last 20 years, we wanted use all that experience in developing this Design Maturity Survey so that you can assess the level of design maturity at your company. Feel free to find how your organization is doing. You’ll see the results instantly.

Design leaders who are making waves within the industry

It impossible to create a top list of all the talented design operations professionals in the world, but we picked a list of some inspirational design leaders who are making waves within the industry.

Who do you look up to? Give us a hint and we'll add them to the list!

Hale Okkonen
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