What is Design Ops? UX Question #57

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Michael from Florida asks: What is Design Ops?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Michael. This is UX Question number 57 and I am Ben Judy.

What is Design Ops? Well, it’s supporting designers and design teams at scale by establishing common processes, tools, standards, and good practices.

Design ops focuses on three fundamentals: efficiency, quality, and culture. I’ll give some real-world examples from my own experience.

When I built a new digital UX practice at 7-Eleven, our team grew to about 25 designers supporting over a dozen different product pods. At that scale, we struggled with efficiency. Ideally, we wanted to all use the same software tools, to establish a common design system with components and patterns and guidance, and to have shared processes for design across the company.

But all that coordination didn’t happen naturally. No, chaos was the default. Every designer naturally had different approaches for doing their work. So, I hired a Design Ops Coordinator to drive consistency and to collect updates from the design Leads so I always had up to date information as the Group Manager.

As a Director of Product Design at the software agency Postlight, I helped our design department establish a Design Ops team and create what we called our Design Guidebook. This was a single source of truth for all things design-related with best practices, deliverables templates, design artifact libraries, and more.

A key section of the Guidebook was our Design Quality Checklist. I used this tool to help product designers consistently ask the same questions when reviewing their work, so we didn’t rush past the little details that add up to great design outcomes.

At The Home Depot, I lead our Enterprise User Experience Design Operations team. We maintain two design systems; we manage software tools and licenses for hundreds of designers; we consult with product teams on accessibility and design best practices and how to onboard new designers; we ensure designers have the same foundational level of skill and knowledge, and so much more.

Centralizing these operational concerns is a force multiplier. It all adds up to a strong culture of design that would be less effective and less cohesive without an ops team.

It takes a lot of purposeful coordination and collaboration to operationalize design effectively, whether you’re a smaller company with a handful of designers or a Fortune 100 business with hundreds or even thousands of designers. Ultimately, Design Ops is the engine that powers design at scale. It can help a UX practice of any size to be more efficient, to consistently deliver higher quality outcomes, and to nurture a rich culture of design.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What is low-fidelity design?

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