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DesignOps: The Key to Scaling Happy Design Teams and Work for Impact

Marta Andreoni, Senior UX Designer and Team Lead in the central Product and UX team at TX Markets shares with us, her expertise and know-how on Design Ops. What does it mean, how is it being used within TX Markets and what does its future hold? This interview is in English.

Can you tell us what DesignOps is? 

Marta Andreoni: Design Ops is a relatively new topic emerging in the design field. The term is meant both as a function and as an approach to understand and manage all those activities that teams put in place to optimize, scale, and operationalize UX. Design within organizations is growing: teams, processes, and design work are scaling, so the demand for structure becomes necessary to create benefits for the business. The risk of not doing it? Projects shaped on ill-problems, disoriented teams, disengaged researchers and designers, low-quality outcomes, double work, and therefore double investment in time and spending. The final goal in the orchestration and optimization of people, processes, and craft is to amplify the design’s value and impact. Taking care of design operations means that UX designers or researchers can focus more on their work because they are not busy with that overhead associated with people and work management. 

"Many organizations expect their designers to wear many hats—project manager, cross-functional partner, creative leader, and logistical coordinator. However, these additional roles reduce the time your designer can devote to your product and users."

- Meredith Black, Pinterest

What does this concretely mean in the PUX (Product and UX) team? 

Marta: In the beginning, when the PUX team was still small, our operations were limited to the way we collected project requirements and to our project workflow, but as the team grew, structure, teamwork, and collaboration became essential. This is where we started managing more operations.        

Today, DesignOps is a shared responsibility between the team manager and leads that make sure to build, manage or facilitate those operational capabilities to shape our team and the way of working while we grow. Even though the term includes the word “design”, DesignOps applies to anyone in the UX field using user-centered and design-thinking processes to solve problems. In our Product and UX team, for example, we apply the principles of DesignOps to the entire team and we shape a subset of different operations specifically for the design and research teams. 

We take care of the way we hire the right people and we find the necessary skills for the team to support our companies. A big part of the effort is to plan, coordinate and make sure that the right project scope is defined and the right disciplines and skills involved but also structuring an efficient workflow in the team and within the TX Markets companies, we work with. Other DesignOps initiatives are more connected with advocating UX or making user insights and best practices more democratic and accessible to other people in the company.

Which are the main pillars of DesignOps?

To go deeper into understanding DesignOps, let’s take a look at the three main areas and some concrete initiatives launched by the PUX team:

How we work together

Everything that concerns UX people within an organization, teams, and individuals. Here, DesignOps practices help to define where UX reports within a company, the team’s composition, and roles. The way people collaborate, the rituals and meetings, but also how to find the right skills in hiring, onboarding, and growing in the career path. We worked for example on a framework for the career path of UX employees that enables us to map the level of contribution within the organization together with the hard and soft skills within the entire span of the product and UX field.

How we get our work done
When more UX people are hired and the organization scales, costs and inconsistency might grow as well. This is why a consistent part of DesignOps is about defining clear principles, processes, methods, and toolsets in order to optimize work delivery. Last year, for example, we helped some of our companies in setting up their design system documentation and teams or switch to more efficient and cheaper tools (for example we saved almost 70% of the budget). A good design system allows designers, marketers and developers to document and share a consistent common language and standards for building digital products at speed.

How our work creates impact

Since the goal of great UX is to generate value for the users while capturing value for the business, DesignOps must ensure that UX people are following design standards, delivering good quality products, and measuring the impact. To achieve that, UX professionals have to be enabled, rewarded and trained to reach quality, one of the main goals we set for our team from the beginning. In terms of generating impact, we are constantly improving, especially by influencing our company in adopting user-centricity and generating innovative ideas, as well as learning ourselves how to design for product growth.

What do people get wrong or don't understand about DesignOps? And how can this be "solved"?

Marta: DesignOps is not the exact equivalent of DevOps or other discipline’s operations. What they have in common though, is facilitating closer and more efficient collaboration between different disciplines to efficiently deliver digital products that generate impact.

One of the most common misconceptions about design operations is that it’s purely project management. However, it’s a lot more than ensuring project delivery, it’s almost like designing teams and designers happiness with good onboarding, career path, processes, advanced tools. Even though these operations help to save money, not all organizations take them into account as they should. This is why one of the hardest tasks of DesignOps people is to measure and show the positive effects of their initiatives.

"DesignOps brings the joy back into design, by enabling designers to focus on what they do best."

- Alison Rand, InVision’s Senior Director of Design Operations

What are your tips for people that work together with UX experts? And how can other teams or disciplines benefit from DesignOps? 

Marta: DesignOps can have a positive side-effect on the entire organization because establishing well-managed processes, optimizing work for scale and speed, documenting and standardizing knowledge and assets can facilitate collaboration with teams from other disciplines. Projects that are supported by the right people, well estimated, and follow the right process and guidelines are most likely to be successful. Research insights, design standards, and design deliverables are transparently and easily accessible for consultation and collaboration with other professionals that are contributing to the product’s user experience, enriching the companies’ knowledge while avoiding double work. 

If you find yourself working with a UX team, besides the fact that we tend to be creative, super-visual, and insanely in love with sticky notes, you have to know that our view of UX Design is first of all human-centered and holistic, the user is in the middle with his needs, goals, concerns, and that everyone contributing to delivering a product touchpoint is responsible for the UX. This is why designers and researchers tend to be inclusive, collaborative, and eager to understand the bigger picture around a user and a product in context and share knowledge with other disciplines. 

What’s the future of DesignOps? 

Marta: In the next few years, companies will try to catch up with their Design operations until we reach a point where they will be a normal part of the organizational capabilities. What we can expect and I wish to see in our organization as well, is the extension of operations in different fields like Innovation, Strategy, and Business which can facilitate the diffusion of growth and a disruptive mindset. But this is the topic for another blog post...stay tuned! 

About Marta and the PUX Team

Marta is the Senior UX Designer and Team Lead in the TX Markets PUX team. PUX (Product and User Experience) is a service of TX Markets and supports the portfolio companies to build and strengthen their products.

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