Implementing DesignOps the mindset at Inviqa

On a dark purple background is the text, "It's time for DesignOps. Let's work together to enable designers to do what they were hired to"
On a dark purple background is the text, "It's time for DesignOps. Let's work together to enable designers to do what they were hired to"
On a dark purple background is the text, "It's time for DesignOps. Let's work together to enable designers to do what they were hired to"

Nov 1, 2022

The challenge

Inviqa had recently been acquired by Havas. As part of this acquisition we also merged with another design team. As you can imagine, our normally well-oiled machine was thrown into chaos and we were struggling to keep up with demand and figure out how to work well together. I had recently come across a new buzz word, DesignOps. Could this be the answer?

How would you define DesignOps?

Neilson Norman defines DesignOps as “the orchestration and optimisation of people, processes, and craft in order to amplify design’s value and impact at scale.” I’m not a fan of this definition, “the optimisation of people” makes designers sound a bit like robots, but before I give you my definition I’d love for you to watch this short video about the DesignOps revolution at IKEA.

“We are not the solution providers. We are the enablers.”

Karolina Boremalm, Head of Global Digital Experience Design Operations, IKEA

I can’t remember the first time I came across the term DesignOps but I vividly remember the day I watched this video and thinking yes! This is what we need!

This is what DesignOps is to me. It’s the understanding that your experience as a designer is just as important as what you design. DesignOps enables design teams to do their best work by providing adaptable processes and tools that free up that extra bit of mental space for designers to use on creative problem solving and the actual craft side of design resulting in better outcomes for the team and the company.

Within an organisation DesignOps can take the form of DesignOps the role, which could be one person or a team. Or it could be DesignOps the mindset which means recognising the need for and implementing an ecosystem of methods and tools that support the design team and allow design to scale efficiently. No DesignOps-explicit role is required for this. You just have to observe current processes and tools with an eye toward increasing efficiencies and improving outputs. DesignOps looks different in each organisation because each organisation will have a different set of challenges but the responsibilities tend to revolved around 3 key areas:

  • How we work together

  • How we get work done

  • How our work creates impact

So after reading and watching every DesignOps resource I could find I formulated a hypothesis that DesignOps the mindset could be a solution to many of the problems we were currently experiencing within the design team and across our design team partners within Inviqa.

My approach:

  1. Asking for advice:

I connected with three DesignOps leaders:

  • Nikki Godley - Director of Design, Strategy, and Operations at Skyscanner (now Chief of Design Staff at Wise)

  • Laurent Christof - DesignOps Lead at Lloyds Bank

  • Josie Downey - DesignOps Director at Fierce

I asked each of them two questions:

  • What value has DesignOps brought to your organisation?

  • What would be your strategy if you wanted to launch a new DesignOps practice within a company?

For the first question I got three different answers which wasn’t surprising as every organisation has a different set of problems.

  • Nikki said she was most proud of their design system, Backpack, which had made their design processes incredibly efficient.

  • Laurent said that it had drastically improved their onboarding process, meaning designers could start working sooner.

  • And Josie said that because they were a new design agency, it was essential for them to document their processes so that they could design at scale.

For the second question, “What would be your strategy if you wanted to launch a new DesignOps practice within a company?” I got the same answer from all three.

  1. Talk to your team.

  2. Figure out where the problems are and how much time is being spent on non-design tasks.

  3. Start creating solutions to show the value that DesignOps can bring.

  4. Keep listening, iterate.

  1. The Proposal - asking for time to complete the project

I knew I was going to have some persuading to do as this would be unbillable time so I wrote a formal proposal and pitched it to our Head of Design, Aleks Melnikova. The proposal included information on what DesignOps is, how it brings value, my plan for implementing it, and why I was the right person to do it.

Read the full proposal

After pitching my plan, I was given half a day a week over the course of 3 months to complete this project. That worked out to 6 full days and I managed to sneak in another 2 full days during some downtime between projects. Not a lot of time but I did the best I could with what I had!

  1. Research, define, prioritise

With the necessary support secured, I embarked on an extensive research phase to uncover the challenges faced by our design team and the wider organisation. Through interviews and observations, I gathered insights from seven individuals across the design team and client services. While I would have preferred to interview everyone and expand the scope to other departments, time constraints meant I needed to take a more focused approach.

Research notes, analysis, and project ideation

Analysing the collected data, I identified a recurring challenge that resonated with everyone: the struggle to find information. This encompassed various aspects, such as locating past project work, accessing CoP recordings, and navigating team resources. The inefficiencies in information retrieval significantly hampered productivity and hindered knowledge sharing within our team and the wider organisation.

Leveraging Existing Resources:

To address the information retrieval challenge, I turned my attention to existing resources that were underutilised within our team. Two crucial assets emerged: the team wiki on Confluence and the XD Project Log. While the wiki suffered from low utilisation and lack of awareness, its potential as an Inviqa-wide knowledge base convinced us to retain it on Confluence. To enhance its usability, I proposed a redesigned format that would improve accessibility and streamline information organisation.

Design review and ideation for the XD wiki

Additionally, the XD Project Log, although previously unnoticed, showcased the potential for comprehensive project documentation. Through discussions with the design team and client services, we recognised the need for additional project details, including proposals, estimation sheets, and retrospectives. Expanding the database and establishing a process for maintaining it would foster better collaboration and knowledge sharing across projects.

XD Resource Hub

The outcome:

As a result of our DesignOps journey, tangible outcomes began to unfold. The redesigned team wiki on Confluence became a hub for consolidated knowledge, ensuring that crucial information was easily accessible to all team members. The XD Project Log facilitated comprehensive project documentation, enabling smoother onboarding processes and fostering collaboration between designers and client services.

Moreover, the insights gathered during our research phase, along with the prioritised backlog of projects and initiatives, were shared with the Council of 7 (leadership team). On my departure from Inviqa, many of these initiatives were already in progress, addressing key challenges identified by the design team and setting the stage for continued improvement.

And the final seal of approval came from Inviqa's Creative Director who after listening to my final playback of the project said…

"Before the presentation I didn't really know what DesignOps was but you've just made me realise we should have been doing this all along."

Let's make something amazing together.

Let's make something amazing together.

Let's make something amazing together.

Kirsten Gord Design.

©Kirsten Gord Design, 2024

Kirsten Gord Design.

©Kirsten Gord Design, 2024

Kirsten Gord Design.

©Kirsten Gord Design, 2024