What is DesignOps and how does it maximize design investment?
Many firms employ designers and place them on design teams. Many designers work day in and day out to design applications, processes, documents, protocols, and systems. But how many firms are truly seeing the best return on their design investment? How are they measuring that return? If they’re measuring at all, how do they have any sense of whether their investment is wildly successful or simply disappearing into the ether?
Dave Malouf, veteran industry interaction designer, proposes a new way of measuring design investment, amplifying it, and thus increasing it even further, using a process that he calls Design Operations, or DesOps (or DesignOps). In his DesignOps webinar, Malouf states that DesOps has as its inspiration the more commonly known Development Operations, or DevOps, although Malouf is quick to point out that DesOps is not simply DevOps for designers. Rather, it takes lessons from it and infuses it with empathy, inclusion, and vision, to create design benefits for the organization and its customers. DesOps, he says, is the set of “tooling, lubrication, and rails that amplify the value of a design team” where:
- Tooling are the things that keep work happening, such as format interoperability and established workflows
- Lubrication is made up of things that keep the business flowing smoothly, like human resources and collaborative systems
- Rails are what keep you focused: values, principles, strategy, and organization structure
Now would be a good opportunity to reemphasize that “design” in this case reaches beyond graphics and interfaces. Design in Malouf’s case essentially refers to anything that can be designed. Aesthetics are important to be sure, but so is your software toolkit, your seating layout, and your interdepartmental communication policy.
At its core, then, DesignOps looks to achieve two goals: provide the conditions necessary to achieve success, and increase the value of design investment by the company.
So, how to address this? First, take some of the lessons learned from DevOps:
- Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) is critical for learning
- Make use of automation
- Measure everything as you go
- Share! Sharing has to be part of the culture and it has to be easy. If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong
- Think of projects as cattle rather than pets. In other words, you have to be willing to kill off unnecessary projects or projects that consume too many resources. Don’t get too attached; remember that the goal is to improve everywhere
- Culture matters. Your entire company needs openness, autonomy, and accountability at all levels
- Develop a culture of learning (at an appropriate pace)
Next, identify the major hurdle. Malouf believes that the single biggest obstacle to design success is “the misalignment of the value proposition that design itself provides an organization.” In other words, does the company even know what design can provide? Do leaders believe that someone in the company can articulate the value of design that a designer would agree with?
Doing so requires some agreed upon definition of “value”. Value in a DesignOps sense, he says, answers the question “Why should I come to you?” The answer here justifies investment through a perceived sense of return. It may not be quantifiable yet, but the there’s at least a sense that the investment produces a return. Finally, it needs to suggest what to measure to justify that return. Essentially, if what you’re talking about can’t answer these questions, it’s very likely not actual value.
Among the most important features of DesignOps are the tools a firm uses. Here, Malouf discusses two categories of tools, the first of which can generally create design value. These are storytelling, visual thinking, workshops, and simulations and prototyping. Other tools with a more workflow bent are:
- Interoperability of formats: is it possible for someone to pick up your work in a pinch if needed?
- Keeping people connected: feelings of connectedness, that everyone’s on the same team, helps with engagement
- Enabling remote experiences
- Connecting designers to stakeholders and collaborators
Finally, Malouf echos one of Entando’s primary business culture calls to action: allying with the IT staff. Few relationships are as central to the success of a business than that of IT with the rest of the company. Indeed, balancing business needs with IT resources is a hallmark of the modern enterprise.
The ingredients for DesignOps, then, is a set of collaborative tools, cooperation and shared vision between teams, a mountain of sharing plans and ideas.
Erika Hall, cofounder of Mule, said it well: "All those working on the same thing must work in the same shared reality. People who make decisions about the product must be the most informed. It does not matter how good the knowledge is, if it is only in the head of one person.”
Ideas need to move. It’s not enough if an idea is in the head of a client, a project manager, the CEO, or a developer. It must be shared, understood, and integrated by the whole team. Shared, collaborated ideas work. And that’s by design.