An Unconventional Way to Define DesignOps

Definitions—like the ones we find in dictionaries—are, by definition, limiting. They’re just a bunch of words.

But the process of defining is chock full of opportunity. Creating a course, writing a book, giving a lecture, or creating a conference are all rich ways to define new things. We (Abby Covert, Dave Malouf, Kristin Skinner, and me) are trying to define DesignOps—the best shorthand we can come up with for Design Operations—by designing a program for the very first DesignOps Summit (NYC, November 6–8, 2017).

The main program (Monday-Tuesday, November 6–7) is bookended with keynotes that balance “innie” and “outie” perspectives. Innies are important because we’re already building design operations in some cutting edge organizations. But operations has been around for, well, millennia, and we have so much to learn from non-design contexts. So insider Kristin Skinner will open the conference with a talk about her work creating design operations at Capital One. Arup partner Stephen Pollard will wrap it up with a discussion of the monumental operational challenges of designing and building terminals at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Their keynotes will sandwich a program divided into four sections:

  1. Design Operations where design is new: In traditional organizations where Ops is firmly established and design is ramping up, how do we get DesignOps established? Examples include GE (Dave Cronin) and Autodesk (Michael Polivka).
  2. Design Operations where design is established: In settings where design is already in the org’s DNA, what’s the path for building out supporting operations? Examples include Shopify (Amy Thibodeau) and Pinterest (Meredith Black).
  3. Ops in traditional settings: We’ll learn from Ops practices from more mature, non-design settings, including DevOps, government, and video game production. Examples include the IRS (Crystal Philcox) and the game design world (Erin Hoffman-John).
  4. Making sense of Design Operations: Led by Dave Gray and his team from XPLANE—who are experts at facilitating group exploration — we’ll work together in large and small groups to get at the big questions driving DesignOps — because without knowing the questions, the definition will never take shape. We also hope to get a start on answering them.

And, at the end of the first day, there will be jazz: Jim Kalbach and three other musicians will demonstrate jazz’s implicit protocols for collaboration, and how they can help us do better work together in all kinds of settings.

Our three day-long workshops cover design systems, building infrastructure for user research, and scaling up your organization’s ability to collaborate:

  1. Creating and Maintaining Successful Design Systems (with Brad Frost): Style guides? Design systems? Lot to consider, and lots of missteps to avoid. Fortunately, we’ve got Brad — the father of atomic design — on hand to help you untangle this mess. (more info)
  2. Scaling Up Your Research Operations the WeWork Way (with Tomer Sharon): Tomer and his team at WeWork have created Polaris, a ground-breaking system for managing user research at scale — not to mention sussing out major insights from the data. He’ll show you how you might pull off something similar in your own organization. (more info)
  3. Scaling Design Through the Balanced Team Approach (with Johanna Kollmann and Gareth Visagie): Bridging development and design is always challenging. Doing so in the context of a large organization makes it even harder. That’s why the Balanced Team approach is gaining steam; Johanna and Gareth will show you how it can help you bridge these yawning gaps. (more info)

From the talks’ topics and stories to the spread of people and companies involved, we hope all involved with the DesignOps Summit will come away with a clearer take on just what’s involved with DesignOps. And should we succeed this year, we’ll make it an annual event— like most important processes, definition works best when it’s iterative. We hope you might join us in defining design operations!