Operationalise your design

Operationalise your design


August 11, 2020


Jason Remen




Businesses have dramatically shifted in the way they value and understand design and how it is a key differentiator in order to successfully deliver products and services to the market.

The growth in agile development and project delivery has surfaced a need for better integration between design and development teams, and the shift to design-led product and service development has highlighted the need to figure out how to deliver design faster and at scale.

Over the past few years companies from the top 10 by market cap have dramatically increased their design headcount to meet the demands in delivering products and services faster and better as it is a vital part of their revenue stream.

Design in tech report 2017

The trend among these companies and other digital product and services companies is the growth in designer to developer ratio.

Techcrunch: 6 major tech companies have doubled their design hiring goals in the last half decade

This increased demand for designers has forced companies to focus more on process and tools to keep up with the new pressure on designers to build more, faster and better, but without proper process, support structure and tools in place any growth will slow down the process of scaling.

So what needs to be in place in order to set the scene for scaling design throughout an organisation?

Establish a design culture throughout your organisation and get the senior management team onboard — the higher up you get this anchored the better. Having a management who cares about design and recognise that design is good business and delivers value is key to establish a design culture throughout an organisation

Hire design talent and evolve designers to meet the needs of your product and service development. Hire generalists and as your organisation scales hire designers with more specialised skills. Investing in your people is important; they deserve it and you need it. Keep team’s skills balanced.

Establish a Design Management team who cares about leadership and who fosters new design leaders

Operationalise your organisation by product- and project manage design as a service inside your business with a Design Program Management team who owns the Design Operations function

Design Operations (Ops)

“DesignOps are the grease, rails, and engine that make design’s processes, methods, and craft as valuable as possible.”
Dave Malouf

In the modern world, speed of development is often the definition of the viability of a product. Businesses have dramatically shifted in the way they value and understand design and how it is a key differentiator in order to successfully deliver products and services to the market. The growth in agile development and project delivery has surfaced a need for better integration between design and development teams, and the shift to design-led product and service development has highlighted the need to figure out how to deliver design faster and at scale.

The DesignOps structure and principles is founded on DevOps which is the software engineering practice aimed to unify the development processes and to create greater efficiencies. Although an organisation may not have specific DesignOps roles designers may already be responsible for roles equivalent to the ones inside a DesignOps structure. Like DevOps specialists, DesignOps specialists are experienced designers with leadership skills who understand the design process within a wider context of product development.

Design can often become a bottleneck in organisations affecting the entire development process, regardless of the size of the team. Occasionally, superhuman designers can help design management drive the design process, but as soon as the workload increases, there is a need to scale and with scale comes other problems; developers idling waiting for design, developers lacking design assets, new components surfaces looking suspiciously like duplicates of existing components, inconsistent design delivered from different designers on the same project. If you encounter any of these challenges is time to consider implementing a DesignOps model.

DesignOps aim is to narrow the gap between design and development and enable designers to focus their time on core design tasks. DesignOps is the structure and processes that facilitates design activities and delivery with minimal friction. This includes all tools and support functions required to deliver design.

“Companies are beginning to understand the value of design, and are investing in the role of DesignOps to maximise design’s value and impact.
Collin Whitehead, Dropbox

To implement DesignOps throughout an organisation you need to assess your organisations current design structure and identify the critical gaps and weaknesses of the existing process or processes. You then need to define clear success criteria’s and ensure your team aligns to them. The success criteria should be in line with your organisation’s goals, values and (design) principles.

Start off by assessing your current team structure, roles, tools and processes by understanding;

• Who are the team, their stakeholders and support functions?

• What do they do?

• How do they communicate?

• How are they structured?

• What constrains them?

Gamestorming; Mapping Design Operations

This will help you build a shared understanding of how DesignOps can operate within your organisation. If you have current DesignOps function this exercise will help you validate it by visually mapping it out. If it doesn’t exist this will help you to get a baseline of what you need to do in order to set one up. What really matters is that this approach is scalable and relevant even with a single designer. So, how do you start implementing this new DesignOps structure and its processes?

Develop guidelines for when a design is complete. Designers need to know when the job is finished and ready to be transferred to the development team. For example, designers need a clear understanding of which states each component must have, and which assets will be required for the development team to build those assets. It may feel that this is an area that designers should understand. But it is actually is one of the most common friction points in a project and should not be ignored. If you formulate what is required, you will reduce conflicts and ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities.

The benefits of this it will make it possible to maintain a steady pace of development. It will reduce the total development time and reduces the number of discussions required between designers and developers.

Design System

When considering what designers should convey to developers it is important to choose a format and language that developers can understand and effectively convey their intentions. There are today multiple tools available that can facilitate the hand over process from design to dev teams, including Sketch, Zeplin, InVision, Adobe XD or Figma to mention a few.

The challenge that sometime arises is that formats from these tools don’t necessary provide everything developers need such as insufficient or incorrectly exported assets or there isn’t a clear process on what designers are expected to produce and how they should handover these assets to developers.

Setting up a Design System with a defined structure and guidelines will reduce this friction and confusion

A Design System is not a style guide or pattern library — it’s a blueprint for product development where all design principles, visual assets, and patterns are thoroughly documented and all code references are included for each design asset.

A Design System will help improve product consistency and team efficiency by consolidating assets and workflows between designers and developers and with efficient processes remove repetitive or wasted work. Without a Design System, digital product development processes will become gradually slower and slower and the overall product or service experience will suffer from growing inconsistencies.

Creating a design and engineering handover process with guidelines will ensure a number of benefits; higher product integrity, easier and faster on-boarding of new team members, better efficiencies for designers and developers when they communicate through one language defined by the Design System with its guidelines and processes.

What value does DesignOps and deliver?

The benefits are improved overall quality of work, reduced friction when scaling and increased speed of design and development. You should constantly demonstrate the improvements with quantitative and qualitative indicators of the implemented changes to team members and management. Without this the team will be reluctant to change, while management will not be able to understand why they should invest in and support the changes.

Continuous collection and presentation of positive results after implementing changes will help you achieve credibility and the necessary authority for further changes in team workflows. The benefits will be increased motivation and a stronger team facilitating new rules and practices supporting future innovation.

Do you want to know more about how RXP can help you operationalise your design process?

At RXP we believe that by helping our clients with their design challenges we enable them to deliver better experiences for their users. We want every interaction, every touch point and every engagement to be a positive experience for our people, our clients, and our partners. This is why at RXP Group we have one core purpose 'Making Happier Humans'.

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