A few months ago Alex Schliefer, the VP of Design at Airbnb, wrote an article about how their company approaches design (behind a signup wall). These Golden Ticket tours of the candy factory are often popular in user experience circles. It’s not hard to understand why; even when we get lucky enough to work in a place that has great process, there’s always room for improvement. So if you can draft off the leaders in the field, why wouldn’t you?
But applying those lessons is often trickier than you think. The ways people can work together often depends on which people you have working together, at least in part. The particular social dynamics of your UX or product team make it nigh impossible to apply lessons learned from other teams whole cloth.
Often the better approach is to figure out which differences will make a difference with your team.
One difference that caught our attention is Mr. Schliefer’s innovation of Design Ops. It struck us as one of those pieces of subtle genius, the same sort that are also the hallmarks of great UX design: incredibly obvious in hindsight, but hard to discover on your own.
Essentially, they have applied the principles of devops to the design department. The less time developers spend detouring to maintain and improve their environments, infrastructure, tools, etc, the more time they can spend writing product code. That sort of work still needs to be done, though, so you make doing that work somebody’s responsibility. How much of one depends on specific issues of resources and needs, of course, ranging from having someone make it their innovation time project to hiring a dedicated team. But having somebody in the organization dedicated to making it easier to not only develop but develop to high standards adds a lot of value.
UX practitioners can benefit from the same approach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reinvented the wheel on a deliverable because there weren’t any templates (or I just couldn’t find them). Or how many times I’ve seen someone on Slack ask if anyone knows about a good tool to do x or the best practices around y and gets a different suggestion from every single other person. Having people dedicated to keep an eye on the way we work and coming up with ways to make everyone’s job easier — whether it be making templates or building a small tool or suggesting process improvements — is not only an obvious value add, but is easy to insert into the way we currently work without a lot of fuss.
Design Ops is, in essence, simply applying good user research and UX design to your own organization. Pretty cool.
We’re starting to implement this in our own design group and are documenting the process for y’all so you can take the journey with us and learn from our mistakes (and, hopefully, our successes, too). So this is the first in an ongoing series of posts around our Design Ops effort.
We started by writing a little vision statement to nail down what Design Ops is to us:
Vision: To ensure designers have the right tools and resources so that they can do the right things at the right times.
- Become the source of truth for the UX Design process(es) we wish to practice.
- Establish ways of identifying and explaining the gap between practice and vision for projects, products, and services that are in active development.
- Recommend adjustments in either actual practice or vision to make the gap between them as small as possible.
- Improve the quality of life of designers on our team by clearly documenting practices, building document templates, organizing resources and files, recommending (or building) tools, identifying (or providing) useful training, and answering questions.
Right now it’s just a couple of us eeking out some innovation time to do this, so we’re going to start off with building templates for the tools we use and the deliverables everyone needs to produce. That should deliver a pretty good initial bang for the buck — and it’s not as trivial as it seems. Bad templates are almost worse than no templates at all.
Next post, we’ll talk about how that process went, what the impact was, and what we’ll tackle next.