Have you heard of DesignOps? With DesignOps, similarly to DevOps, the processes can be orchestrated by the power of a few dedicated specialists even in giant corporations. We sat down with Eva Cochet-Weinandt, Design Lead at IBM and an experienced DesignOps specialist, to break down the main ideas of DesignOps and its potential to revolutionize design production.
Eva Cochet-Weinandt is a Design Lead, UX Strategist and Mentor focusing on user-centered business innovations and scalable solutions. She works at IBM, leading design teams through transformation and integration projects runs the Design at Scale Meetups and mentors at UX Rescue.
I studied communication design and started off my career at a small design studio specializing in scalable visual systems and editorial design for large cultural and education projects. In this context, I engaged in project management to improve our collaboration, workflows and organization structure. My interest in complex projects in the digital field led me to deepen my skills with a master's in multicultural web creation.
I joined IBM as a visual designer, and, driven by my passion for processes and enabling design teams, I soon transitioned into co-leadership roles like Visual Design Lead or DesignOps. Since three years ago, I am the Design Lead for the user experience transformation of the software SPSS Statistics, still focusing on design operations, among other responsibilities. I am also involved with different squads like the recruitment team or the Design and User Experience review panel. Alongside my daily job, I created a meetup with a friend focusing on Design at Scale; I also mentor design teams for UX Rescue.
Design Operations, or in short DesignOps, is a practice that emerged in recent years. Its purpose is to serve the needs and challenges of design practitioners in the era of designing at scale. Since it is still an evolving field, you might find different definitions. I like to define DesignOps similarly to the Nielsen Norman Group:
While some companies already have dedicated DesignOps teams, others include this role for large projects, and some simply apply the practice without having a dedicated role.
For planning I tend to use Github, since it is a great way to document UX stories with epics, assign work items, and follow the progress
Mural or Miro for collaboration workshops and work sessions to co-crate on initial concepts, exchange ideas and define priorities
For design production, collaboration, and hand-offs we now tend to use Figma. This allows the team to collaborate more efficiently
DesignOps is a broad topic, there is a multitude of components that can be relevant. Depending on the organization and design maturity, the focus may vary. I like to categorize the core principles under the pillars of People, Practices and Processes.
Nowadays, designers are embedded into business strategies and this naturally exposes them to work in complex environments. They are involved in many more aspects and have to interact with a multitude of stakeholders. This additional workload decreases the time they can dedicate to designing solutions. DesingOps is devoted to handling this complexity and lowering the noise for the design organization, helping increase designers’ productivity. In this respect, DesignOps is a real benefit for organizations to scale up their design impact and tie it closer to the business requirements and needs.
The DesignOps job itself is rather new. It is slowly getting more important in the industry. However, it is still a rare position and there is no clear career path. It is often seen as a skill for design leadership positions. It is a skill that you gain with experience, and it is not yet formally taught within a design curriculum.
It may gain more importance in the future as we see big industry players dedicating DesignOps roles in their design organizations.
I started at IBM as a Visual Designer working in a large design team within a complex environment. To become more efficient as a team, I soon engaged in evolving cross-functional team processes and practices. My job title was changing alongside the evolving UX field, I was first labeled as a Project Planner, a Design Producer, and finally a DesignOps.
Brainstorming sessions. Photos from Eva’s archives
When it comes to soft skills, I would say empathy is essential not only for a design team but also for a cross-functional team.
If you are new to Design Operations, many blog posts are introducing this topic:
In the era where scalability is key in the design industry, DesignOps is emerging more and more as a designated design role. Not only single design teams but also design organizations are looking to become more efficient and increase their business impact.
There are two main paths to consider in your design career: become an expert in your field to evolve into a senior or design principal or move into an overarching role like a design manager or director. The DesignOps role might fall right in the middle of these two paths, as it is a role that allows you to have an overall impact on the business and at the same time keep a strong connection with the design discipline itself.
There are two main books to consider: ‘Org Design for Design Orgs‘ by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner, and ‘What Is DesignOps?‘ by Dave Malouf.
I remember thinking about being a children's book author or a wild-life photographer. But being creative with a problem-solving mindset, I learned early on that design would be a good fit for me.
UX design has been evolving since it was acknowledged as a strong suit for businesses. It has moved from a simple craft to a strategic differentiator. Today there is almost no such thing as a UX designer since the field of UX design has diversified in roles, practices and focus points.
In a mature organization, we can now see Visual Designers, Interaction Designers, UX Engineers, UX writers, or UX researchers. We can now see user experience is not a matter of pure design but a vital part of any interaction points with customers, clients and end-users. We also differentiate between UX (user experience), CX (customer experience) and SD (service design). We see emerging design fields with evolving technologies like AI, VR, or IoT designers.
With globalization and the emergence of complex digital environments, we can imagine that the tendency to have specialized designers could continue to grow. One day, there might be a design role in every type of industry branch.
I think it is crucial for young designers to see your work as a prototype and be open to user feedback and changes. Your first idea is rarely the ultimate solution. What is important is to fail fast, learn and evolve. I would rather like to see multiple approaches and concepts before focusing on one single perspective.
I also encourage designers to keep a strong design ethic. It is important to keep in mind the user's benefit while navigating the diverse perspectives of stakeholders. Do not lose track and aim to design the best solutions for users. In a complex environment, the ideal solution might not happen at once but over time. Think of designing the path and the stages to get to the best solution.
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