The what and how of DesignOps

Design has become soooo complex

You’ve been doing it for a long time, or perhaps you are just in the early stages of owning a design business.
For the long timers you can see the design eco system has changed dramatically. For the newcomers you are overwhelmed.

We have the privilege of looking back over many years of the design industry in Australia. One of the major shifts is the evolution of the role of the designer in the business discipline. For example we now have a degrees in Business design. IDEO offer a business course based on design thinking, Swinburne and Uni of NSW offer joint business and design degrees.

Tim Brown is to blame

In 2008 Tim Brown put forward the model for Design Thinking. Roger Martin followed with his book The Design of Business in 2009. Since then many businesses have explored and realised the potential offered by design.

This brought on a rapid growth of design practices all based on the increased complexity of web and digital projects. In our working life we’ve seen the web move from a one-person job — we employed one web designer and ten visual designers — to a multidisciplinary, collaborative, and complex task requiring new skills and new processes. In most studios designers have to cross back and forth from traditional visual design to digital.

So how is it done?

Due to the increasing complexity, design businesses have started separating the What, the visual solution, product or service vision, from the How, the operational strategy to execute the design. This is now called DesignOps

Invision has long been a leader in the development of design systems in the product space. In their DesignOps Handbook they claim Dave Malouf ideated DesignOps after being immersed in the world of agile software development in 2014.

Malouf realised design teams needed to have an understanding of what was being constructed. He called it “DesignOps”, where “ops” is short for “operations”.

Malouf defined it as “everything that supports high quality crafts, methods, and processes”, being a mix of business, person and workflow operations. Therefore, DesignOps takes care of everything surrounding the design process and makes it more efficient.

Essentially if the design leader is in charge of the strategy and outputs, someone else has to make the vision happen by bringing together tools, best practices, processes, and ways of working that could streamline efficiency and seamlessly embed all best practices in the design process.


In most small studios all these roles are done by the business owner/s. Our observation is small studios become bigger studios when they recognise the DesignOps role needs a specialist. A person who can let the creatives be creative without all those other burdens. This is what we look at in our Business of Design short course.

Greg Branson

Contact me if you would like to learn more about becoming a the Business of design short course.

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

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  1. An intensive three month Business of design short course
  2. DesignOps and the design process Here’s some thoughts.
  3. Redesigning designers.

Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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