June 3, 2019
Design and design thinking are becoming recognised as key drivers for growth in technology companies, with major players like IBM and AirBnB leading the way. With an increasing number of designers employed by these companies, a new practice is emerging, called DesignOps. I have recently had the chance to dive deep and reflect on this new practice, joining as one of the speakers at the DesignOps Global Conference in Manchester. I wanted to write down a few post-conference thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.
My talk at the DesignOps Global Conference was about designing for impact with theories of change
When I first heard of the term DesignOps (or Design Operations), my initial thought was that it is just another buzzword. It all sounded very similar to what I would have called ‘design management’, so why do we need a new word for it? After hearing an amazing lineup of speakers more familiar with this territory, my understanding is that DesignOps is a distinct function that addresses:
In the eloquent words of Dave Malouf, Design Operations is about “amplifying the value of design” in an organisation. The importance of this is clearly recognised by organisations that have started employing dedicated DesignOps teams.
While some talks focussed on technical aspects of DesignOps, such as creating and maintaining design systems, many speakers clearly emphasised the need to consider its human aspects. Transformation programmes that ignore the cultural element are more likely to fail and good DesignOps practices help to address this by:
Walls and silos work against the goals of DesignOps, which is why creating a thriving ‘studio culture’ and fostering collaborative working practices is really important. I really liked a quote by Hayley Hughes which emphasised this point: “Your design system is only as strong as your relationships with the teams who use it.”
In line with the above, a key role of DesignOps is to keep an eye on the ‘health’ of the design practice and the people involved.
Hayley Hughes from AirBnB talks about the importance of designers nurturing relationships across the organisation
For all its efforts to reach across silos, designers still seems to find it difficult to communicate the value of design. Adopting a language full of jargon with words like DesignOps, design thinking or agile doesn’t help this cause any further. During a panel discussion, Doug Powell suggested that designers should look beyond design and become better business people if they wish to be on an equal footing with stakeholders at the highest level.
While design has certainly made huge steps in the last decade towards being considered an essential aspect of any big organisation, we could perhaps achieve even more by really listening and understanding the point of view of other people we work with within our own businesses. And if tweaking some of the words that we use will make it easier for people to hear what we have to say, then that’s not really such a high price to pay.
Here are the slides from my presentation for anyone that might want to dig deeper: https://www.slideshare.net/BorisDivjak1/theories-of-change-to-guide-future-service-innovations