Pradipto Chakrabarty
8 min readJun 10, 2022
Photo by Hamza NOUASRIA on Unsplash

We may have heard about DevOps. Now it’s time to glance through the buzz word that evolved few years ago in product and UI/UX design domain — DesignOps.

Every problem is a design problem. Demand for efficient and effective design is increasing & design teams are growing fast. Now, as organization are focusing more into creative ways of managing their business, it has become essential to create a lasting impact on your existing and potential customer. These days, you need to be consistent with the experience you provide to your customer across all the digital touchpoints they might have in their journey with your products or services.

To ensure this, a new scale will require a new structure — it doesn’t make sense to bog designers down with work that distracts them from actual design. They should have the freedom and support to exercise their creativity. To facilitate this shift, from the way design teams used to work to how a design team should work — comes the Design Operations or DesignOps.

The Origin of DesignOps

According to the Invision’s DesignOps Handbook, Dave Malouf ideated DesignOps after being absorbed in the world of agile software development, in 2014.

The term “DesignOps” is a take-off of DevOps, a collaborative approach to software development and systems administration that prioritizes speed, efficiency, and automation. Like DevOps, DesignOps emphasizes efficiency. Its primary focus is to ensure that designers are free to concentrate on craft, thereby allowing design to have greater organizational impact.

Malouf realized that for the framework to work out for users and UX and design teams, it needed to have an understanding of what was being constructed. He called it “DesignOps”, where “Ops” is short for “operations”. Malouf defined it as “everything that supports high quality crafts, methods, and processes”, being a mix of business, person and workflow operations. Therefore, DesignOps takes care of everything surrounding the design process and makes it more efficient.

A Few Common Problems Design Teams Face

Before trying to describe the role of DesignOps in organizations, it’s important to mention about the problems designers face:

  • Designers work in a silo. Quite often the design department is isolated from other departments, such as engineering and marketing. A design process where design team works independently is not very effective.
  • The rise of the complexity of design tools and solutions. The tools used for design become more complex. Designers need to spend extra time to learn how to use them.
  • No clear career paths for design. Very few organizations have mature career paths for design. Quite often, designer’s career paths are mapped to developer’s career paths.
  • Design is often considered as a step in the product creation process. Designers have a production role (create tangible artifacts for developers) rather than strategic role (define a direction for product design).
  • Speed of delivery is still the most important measurement of success. Product design is measured by whether a product is shipped on time (meeting deadlines).
  • There’s no clear specialization. Many organizations still expect their designers to wear many hats — they believe that designers shouldn’t only design, but should also be project managers, be creative leaders, and design evangelists. However, these additional roles reduce the time a designer can devote to their primary activity — designing.

All those problems introduce friction in the design process and increase the time required to move from the initial product requirements to the final solution.

DesignOps Is A Collective Term For Addressing Challenges :

  • growing and evolving design teams
  • finding and hiring people with the right skills
  • creating efficient workflows
  • improving the quality and impact of design outputs.

The goal of DesignOps is to establish processes and measures that support scalable solutions for these challenges, so that designers can focus on designing and researching.

The DesignOps Landscape

The Nielsen Norman Group organizes their “DesignOps menu” — in other words, what people in DesignOps roles do — into three broad categories: “How we work together,” “How we get our work done,” and “How our work creates impact.”

The DesignOps Landscape by NN/g

However, every company seems to take a slightly different approach. IBM has a primer to show ideas and org charts for how to scale DesignOps teams. Atlassian shared their workflows to incorporate design understanding and feedback in an agile-like process. So did Getty Images, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Salesforce. While they’re all slightly different, they all share the three-tiered approach that NN Group laid out: There’s the work done on the product, the work done on the team, and then an awareness of the culture of design.

Dave Malouf’s Tri-Track System

As Dave Malouf, explained in the 2019 DesignOps Handbook, the historical difficulties of designers working with developers is that “developers and product managers measured success by whether a product shipped on time, and not whether the design satisfied user needs.” Tri-track systems solved these problems by adding a “discovery” track, a way to learn from mistakes and test experiments, and an “understanding” track, which considers the efficacy of the product and the efficiency of the team — “whether it’s the “the ‘right’ thing based on user needs and team insights.”

Here Is The List Of Activities A DesignOps Team Usually Take Care Of

DesignOps team — key deliverables and activities

How Does DesignOps Work?

There are three different operational areas of focus: people, business, and workflow. Each is weighted differently depending on the size or purpose of DesignOps within the company.

  • People operations focus is ensuring each designer has a clear career path, addressing skills gaps, and helping to build a world-class design team.
  • Business operations mindset is securing the proper budget for the design team and supplying them the equipment (e.g. creative software) to succeed.
  • Workflow operational management sets up the proper design management software and focuses on research, scalable processes, and creative production flow.

The DesignOps Mindset

It starts by identifying DesignOps roles which will result in streamlining the design process. It’s not a standardized formula or a rigid set of rules and tools.

To develop this design ops mindset, think in 3 ways: objectives, inputs, and outcomes.

The objective of DesignOps is to support the design team in alignment with the customer-centric vision of the organization:

  • DesignOps starts with a focus on humans; our customers. When designers have the tools and processes to respond to the customer — and the permission to look to the future — those teams deliver on a meaningful vision that sustains deep customer relationships over time.
  • Meaningful customer experiences are where the rubber meets the road. The products and services designers help create support how a customer feels across the journey engaging with various touchpoints and interactions within an organization. Delivering great experiences is the entire point.

The inputs guide the design team’s ability to effectively fulfil the objective by enabling them to deliver at scale for the organization:

  • Purpose establishes why the design team exists and how they will succeed. As a design team matures, its remit becomes increasingly holistic and strategic, creating greater value for the organization.
  • Talent is the heart of your design team. DesignOps enables a positive employee experience, determines your organization’s ability to attract and grow top talent, and focuses on capabilities and behaviours aligned with the purpose.
  • Processes are the key rituals that “turn people into teams.” These linkages enable how information flows across stakeholders, teams, management and operations. They create connections that might not otherwise occur to combat siloes, facilitate knowledge sharing, advance decisions, define success, collect feedback, capture learnings, and celebrate success. Processes help to determine how and when design fits into the right moment, and when to leverage methods like lean, SCRUM, agile and others for the best outcome.
  • Enablers are the tools and assets that enable design work. Enablers focus on communication tools, facilitation of collaboration, reviews and feedback mechanisms to facilitate learnings, informed decision-making and drive better team efficiencies. There are many dynamic and evolving cloud-based collaboration tools that amplify a designer’s impact by removing points of friction between designers and collaborators in engineering.
  • Structure determines the organizational structure that design operates within or across functional teams, such as product, innovation, IT, or the organization at large. Design should be operating at the right altitude for the problem and need, be it strategic or tactical.
  • The outcomes provide evidence that the design team’s creativity is being employed to accomplish the objective:
  • Culture is how it feels for a designer to work in your organization. A meaningful culture empowers employees with a clear understanding of how their contributions enable the overall purpose, and gives them the autonomy and agency to contribute in a manner that is empowered by process, tools and structure.
  • Results are how impact is measured and crosses business (ROI, revenue / spend KPIs, customer satisfaction / retention), efficiency (time to market, ways of working) and culture (impact, job satisfaction). We create a set of design standards that define what good experiences look and feel like and have the means to deliver them effectively to the market.

Design Ops Team Structure

The Nielsen Norman Group suggests 5 Common Team Structures for DesignOps

  1. Scattered: DesignOps efforts are taken on by other roles (e.g., design managers) as part of their day-to-day job responsibilities. Within the organization, “DesignOps” is likely unused as a term and unknown as a formalized concept.
  2. Solitary: DesignOps is a team of 1. This dedicated DesignOps role identifies and develops programs for the largest painpoints of the design team, often in an initially reactive way.
  3. Specialized: DesignOps is divided across a few people who manage or oversee specific aspects of DesignOps full time.
  4. Distributed: DesignOps roles are distributed and dedicated to individual teams throughout the organization, focusing on team-to-team coordination and alignment.
  5. Elevated: DesignOps scales to become a separate entity, providing centralized resources and programs that affect and benefit the entire design organization.

DesignOps Success Stories

Airbnb was one of the first enterprises to fully embrace DesignOps.

Adrian Cleave joined Airbnb as their first Director of DesignOps, in July 2015, and built a DesignOps group comprising ‘five distinct teams:

· Design Program Management — Driving our operational strategy and owning and evolving a holistic design process.

· Design Tools — Building tools to empower and amplify designers as well as bridging disciplines.

· Localization — Making sure Airbnb’s language is truly international and radically local.

· Production Design — Ensuring our design is executed to the highest quality across Product and Marketing initiatives.

· Team Coordinators — Keeping teams healthy and happy and leadership sane.’

“By the time Cleave joined Airbnb, the company had already developed its Design Language System, which enhanced quality and accelerated their design and development process.”

DesignOps is just another practice like DevOps or Agile. It’s a mindset and requires cultural change if you want to establish an effective DesignOps practice & team in your organization. To roll out DesignOps, you will need executive commitment & support, also designers and design strategists to evaluate the work and processes.


SUPERSIDE_The Future of DesignOps



Pradipto Chakrabarty

Design Strategist | UX Expert | Agile Practioner | Product Manager