DesignOps - How to Improve Your Design Workflow and Operations?

Katie Mikova / Friday, January 28, 2022

Taking into account the entire design project and business, cross-functional product teams, practices and methods, DesignOps improve workflow and collaboration for designers, facilitate multi-department processes like the designer-developer handoff, enhance the way products and services are innovated into digital representations, and enable projects and organizations to evolve at a faster pace.

According to the “DesignOps: Organize, Collaborate and Innovate Product UX at Speed” report by Gartner[1], by 2023 products that benefit from DesignOps now are forecasted to double their revenue, compared to the rate of their competitors. But as much as it encapsulates process optimizations, Design Operations are also about a cultural shift that forms an entirely new mindset among teams. From designers and developers, through PMs and stakeholders, to marketers, people build a sort of cross-functionality that increases the quality of the output and the impact coworkers generate together.

In this article, then, I will explore the following questions to help you understand why DesignOps matters:

DesignOps Definition: The Design Stripped Off Designing

Working as a single-source of operational truth, Design Operations (or DesignOps) are a set of practices, role(s), inhouse design guidelines, and digital product design development tools that are mobilized together to cultivate a “centralized design team management as well as product-level design delivery.”[2]

Meredith Black, a DesignOps pioneer and a former DesignOps lead at Pinterest, sums it up really well by jokingly stating that “DesignOps is everything but actual design.” So, let’s take a step back, take the design and strip it off from every design-related procedure. Then, leave nothing but its bare scaffolding. What will we see behind the UI and UX? A usually scattered matrix of core principles and operational basics between you as a designer and your teammates that should be otherwise aligned together to help all of you organize, prioritize, standardize, and socialize.

As a result, this generates synchronized vision, strategy and collective design direction well placed against milestones, staff allocations, project scope, associated responsibilities and know-how, productivity, and time. This is what propels high quality and agile delivery of digital products while amplifying the value of design at high velocity as early as in the design sprint.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Design Operations have been around for a while (though, as a process not necessarily known by the same name “DesignOps”), not many enterprises and organizations understood why they mattered until recently. One of the first global companies that realized the importance and implemented DesignOps strategies was Airbnb. Doing this, they aimed at delivering “agility to the whole product organization through centralized tools, systems and services that enhance speed and quality of execution.”

 Image of the 5 DesignOps teams by Airbnb

To achieve it in the most effective way, they extended DesignOps to 5 dimensions. And as Adrian Cleave, Director of Design, Growth & Traffic at Airbnb, points out; “Our functions include Design Program Management, Design Tools, Localization, Production Design and Team Coordinators. We work closely with Marketing, Product, Design and Engineering to create the best user experiences possible.”

Why DesignOps Matter?

The digital workspace is expanding. The software and service design development landscape remains dynamic. Consumers evolve in their digital-savviness, sky-high expectations and needs. Design teams scale in size to manage their projects and simultaneously keep the balance between demand and supply. All of this happens under the influence of digital transformation, constantly emerging trends, design processes and tasks which multiply their complexity by days and joggle across teams.

By fostering not only digital transformation but also DesignOps transformation and handling the operational aspect of design, teams can improve their design and development workflow and reduce the heavy load of all the factors mentioned above at the same time.

Keep in mind that:

  1. The goal of the DesignOps transformation should be clarified because each business and project require different approaches to different bottlenecks and for concrete results.
  2. Dysfunctionalities should be researched and acknowledged as early as the design ideation phase. Here, it will be a good idea to carry out surveys across all departments involved in the project and also conduct studies among potential users. How do you have a high-performance team that scores success? By making decisions through data and measure results. Make use of data and improve. Keep repeating this. Collaborate, measure, analyze. Use data to make decisions – evaluate users and see what works best for them. Perform user testing and usability testing to get better outcomes and keep everyone involved in a modern way.
  3. After the right DesignOps person is in place for the right purpose, teams should remain flexible enough to be led by the new DesignOps principles and methods.
  4. Facilitate collaboration and enable design and the development team to evolve.
  5. Amplify the value of both designers and product design so it better resonates not only with end-users but with everyone involved in a given project. You will be surprised to see how the final output will have a particular purpose and this purpose will be well communicated across all departments, teammates, and potential users – from UI and UX designers, through project managers and stakeholders, and finally to the people who will interact with and benefit from the product/service.

The 4 Ps of DesignOps or How Does It Work

When I talk about design operations and look at its most foundational aspects, I have come to realize that it revolves around four components or the 4 Ps, as I would like to call it: Product, Process, People, Program. And each component benefits designers in its own way.

 Image of the 4 Ps of DesignOps including Product, Process, People, Program.

In this regard, the product-focused component is led by the idea to organize and works towards:

  • Finding and removing bottlenecks and formulating better design workflows.
  • Reducing operational dysfunctionalities like miscommunication and silos.
  • Creating a focused roadmap to deliver high-level design project from initiation through testing to delivery.
  • Outlining a work breakdown structure for a given product so you know where to start from and what to end with.
  • Making a design accountable by defining common criteria as well as principles for good and bad user-centric design which you can follow as a designer and communicate to non-designers.
  • Defining, selecting, and aligning design quality metrics which can be shared among anyone in the team working on a given design project.
  • Building and increasing situational and project awareness so you and your team stay on the same page, better handle the handoff, and more easily keep track of where everyone is at.

The second “P” standing for processes, I see it more as DesignOps being driven by the main idea to prioritize and acting/functioning with the company in mind. Which brings together the business and the specific design project. It is important to twist it through this prism, because here DesignOps focuses on:

  • Clarifying the budget and how much it will cost to have a design team working on a given project.
  • Identifying strategic business goals, scope of work, and documentation to serve as guidance for designers. This way you can more easily keep up with branding requirements and business objectives.
  • Defining deadlines and prioritizing on projects. Which will help you map out and prioritize on certain features, for instance. Moreover, you will know what to focus on first and how to organize your priority tasks to have a more linear workflow.
  • Keeping track of everything going on through regular meetings with teammates from different departments (PMs, developers, etc.)

“P” for people is about the idea to socialize. But not only in terms of sharing information and updates among team members. The focus of Design Operations here is to allow better ways for communicating needs, skills, purposes and design-team capacity. Main priorities are:

  • Building and being part of a design team with the right skillset, shared vision, and common purpose so you can more easily sync with the others.
  • Knowing of the roles of anyone in the UI/UX design department.
  • Determining specific needs of designers and identifying skill gaps.
  • Communicating shared path to build a successful product and/or service.
  • Improving how you and your teammates see and understand the scope, features, goals, and direction of a given design project, thus avoiding design deviations.
  • Balancing efforts required for design development and implementation with a specific deadline, so you can complete a project or release a new feature on time.
  • Understanding design team capacity and workload and avoid burnouts.

Lastly, the DesignOps component focused on programs circles around the idea to standardize technologies and automation DesignOps tools. It includes:

  • Utilizing the same DesignOps tools, digital-asset managers (DAMS) or other digital product development platforms so you can quickly streamline your design workflow.
  • Developing user-research data repositories that you can access easily.
  • Allowing you to benefit from cross-functional collaboration between you as a designer, your other design teammates, and fellow development colleagues through encompassing design and collaboration tools (like Slingshot by Infragistics, for instance) and efficient collaboration.
  • Empowering design ideation, evaluation, and constructive feedback from anyone involved in the design project.
  • Overcoming miscommunication gaps and resolving simple day-to-day dysfunctionalities such as having a developer who doesn’t know which designer is tasked with the creation of a certain feature, for instance.

Tips To Improve Your Design Workflow and Operations

There are certainly many concrete things that DesignOps must deal with to overcome challenges, optimize design workflow and enhance the overall digital product development process. Like trying to find a solution to ad hoc operational systems or approaches implemented by designers. Or avoiding design silos, iteration, or even miscommunication between project managers, developers and designers.

Again, Gartner[3] recaps three crucial things that will help build better workflows for designers and streamline operations to have smooth design processes and constructive communication:

“Adopt a single source of operational truth by using a common enterprise agile planning (EAP) tool and agile practices within the UX team to plan, estimate, track and allocate UX resources.

Promote deep communication between UX and development teams by engaging in collaborative creuativity at the group and individual levels.

Formalize innovation by employing continuous discovery to explore and test ideas in parallel with daily production activities.”

I would also like to add 2 more tips:

Research the company, current design processes and project management to evaluate the advantageous areas that generate ROI and overcome the biggest setbacks. Address the pain points in the design process and start the optimization from them.

Carry out more regular meetings with the DesignOps person. There is no “one-size-fit-them-all” situation here. Each company and business are different and they grow different in size, projects, drawbacks and progress. That’s why the dedicated DesignOps person or team should narrow down their focus and strategies to the specificalities of the organization, the design projects you are part of, and the rest of the people involved. The role of the DesignOps person strictly depends on the needs, strengths, and weaknesses of a given company and their design products.

How to Scale DesignOps with Indigo.Design

Collaboration and team efficiency

With Indigo.Design from Infragistics, you achieve consistency, efficiency, teamwork and just enough automation and digitalization of critical operations that will allow you to remain competitive and deliver more value. As a complete digital product design platform, it can be used as a DesignOps tool that enables true UX design-development collaboration through Group Workspaces, thus eliminating painful operational dysfunctionalities. Providing a single working environment for managers, designers, developers, and even stakeholders, everyone can easily work together, test and comment on prototypes in real time, eliminate design handoffs and reduce costly iterations. Using Indigo.Design for scaling DesignOps, the entire team gains clear situational awareness regarding end-users, timelines, deadlines, design specifics, recommended features and functionalities, and even the tasks everyone is assigned with.

Cost saving & zero time on handoffs

Another way in which it scales DesignOps is by facilitating the design-to-dev handoff process, while offering time savings for designers, developers, and stakeholders while reducing costly iterations. Some may ask “why stakeholders?” Well, while the designer is responsible for the visual and behavioral aspects of a design and the developer implements it, there's a person (the stakeholder) in between who goes through the approval after designing and before implementation. A prolonged process which could be facilitated even more with the super combination Indigo.Design + our WYSIWYG Drag & Drop Web App Builder.

Usually, stakeholders want to see something functional, a proof of concept, to interact with it, test it, and see what this all thing is about. So, a developer may create this POC (sometimes it may even take several versions) which in the end of the process gets discarded. With the App Builder, this entire manual phase is eliminated as the tool is the one taking care of each step in this process inside the platform itself. Everything happens with each team member in mind, collaboration between designers, developers and stakeholders is streamlined, and development time is drastically shortened. Generally, the team works in sprints (could be one or more). There is the research phase/discovery phase carried out in Scrum or Agile which can take up to several weeks! However, using App Builder along with Indigo.Design, you can cut down the conception or discovery research phase from two - four weeks to one or two days. 

The developer, then, can be involved early in the design process. This way designers gain direct insights as to how design elements would likely translate to a web, mobile, or desktop application, and developers will be able to spot potential issues with the code.

Also, developers save time on generating all the boilerplate because Indigo.Design generates all the visual parts and programmers get their HTML code (or a production-ready code in any other popular technology like Blazor for example) instantly.

And lastly, our design-to-code system lets everybody in the digital product design process, testers, or users, contribute more effectively to a final product that brings value and purpose.


Gartner, “DesignOps: Organize, Collaborate and Innovate Product UX at Speed”, 6 May 2020, by Brent Stewart, Jason Wong, Arun Batchu, “DesignOps at Airbnb How we manage effective design at scale”, Adrian Cleave

[1] Gartner, “DesignOps: Organize, Collaborate and Innovate Product UX at Speed”, 6 May 2020, by Brent Stewart, Jason Wong, Arun Batchu

[2] Gartner, “DesignOps: Organize, Collaborate and Innovate Product UX at Speed”, 6 May 2020, by Brent Stewart, Jason Wong, Arun Batchu

[3] Gartner, “DesignOps: Organize, Collaborate and Innovate Product UX at Speed”