UX design exerts greater impact on application development

alphaspirit - Fotolia

DesignOps: Bridging the developer, designer communication gap

DesignOps, based on DevOps concepts and practices, helps to optimize developer and designer communication and collaboration to produce better products, faster.

Software developer Drew Bourne concluded that if developers and operators could come together in a concept known as DevOps, then developers and designers could surely come closer in a concept known as DesignOps.

Bourne, a lead software engineer at Capital One, heads up a DesignOps effort in the company's commercial digital innovation group that aims to improve developer and designer communication and make better products.

Speaking at the recent QCon New York 2017 conference, Bourne argued that designers and developers build better products when they communicate with a common language. That common language is defined by a design system, which is used to communicate design decisions, he said. Bourne noted that such systems for designers ought to be more like software engineering design patterns, which are reusable solutions to commonly occurring problems in software creation.

"We need to smooth out the pipeline of what designers and developers are working on and getting it into production," he said in an interview. "And by that smoothing out process, I mean building tools, making things automated and removing cases of human error and repetitive work. So, take a cue from the mindset of developers and operations and move it to the design side as well, where you have a lot of repetition and human errors that can creep in on the translation from design intent to development implementation."

Transition noted from DevOps to design

Meanwhile, Bourne's colleague, Kristin Skinner, head of design management at Capital One, recently spoke at the Enterprise UX 2017 conference in San Francisco, where in an interview, she noted the parallels between DesignOps and DevOps."It does make sense, because that's been the natural transition, when we start to think about all of these activities that are like DevOps, but for design," Skinner said.

Indeed, Bourne noted that developer and designer communication has never had the same level of friction as that between developers and operations. But lacking a common language often leads to miscommunication and prolonged product cycles.

We need to smooth out the pipeline of what designers and developers are working on and getting it into production.
Drew Bournelead software engineer, Capital One

"In the industry as a whole, designers and developers are getting better at collaborating and being co-located so they can iterate as quickly as possible," Bourne said. "You don't want to have a waterfall process where all the design happens and then you throw it over the wall to the developer who doesn't understand the intent behind the product. You want to build it together."

Bourne started his career on the design side but gravitated to engineering "because I identified places to automate" and enhance the developer and designer communication loop, he said.

In a blog post from earlier this year, Dave Malouf, director of product design at DigitalOcean, said of the core disciplines, design is least integrated into DevOps environments and needs its own place.

Moreover, tools for helping designers also are not as prevalent as those for developers. "Managing 'design systems' often means that large organizations are building their own software for doing this, often relying on developer-centric tools like GitHub to do designer flows and activities," Malouf wrote.

He also noted that while Agile processes have helped accelerate the productivity for developers, "the popular design methods still happen before and separate from development, and design is seen as an impediment as opposed to a valuable step in the learning process for developers and product manager," he wrote.

DesignOps functions spread throughout

This is where DesignOps comes in. Adrian Cleave, director of DesignOps at Airbnb, said the company created a DesignOps organization to foster collaboration between designers, developers and others.

"Our mission is to provide agility to the whole product organization through centralized tools, systems and services that enhance speed and quality of execution," Cleave wrote in a blog post.

The Airbnb DesignOps team's functions include design program management, design tools, localization, production design and team coordinators, and the team works closely with Airbnb's marketing, product, design and engineering units to create the best user experiences possible, he wrote.

"The DesignOps team at Airbnb was loosely inspired by the DevOps movement," Cleave wrote. "Having seen the gap between engineering and design at even mature tech companies, I felt that the DevOps concepts of cultural shift, collaboration and automation [were] 100% relevant."

Although the DesignOps concept is new, the message is getting out there about what it entails and how to do it, Bourne said. And as teams build more tools around it, things will improve, he added.

"Companies like Airbnb and Salesforce are leading the way with their communication around DesignOps and what their teams are doing and how they're doing it" Bourne said. "But there's a lot of work needed around describing how to build tools and getting them in place. Airbnb released their React-Sketchapp. It allows you to write React code and export it to a Sketch file that designers use. That's one aspect of tightening that feedback loop between design and development."

Sketch is a vector design tool for user interface design. Airbnb has open sourced its React-Sketchapp tool.

Next Steps

Designing for the world of IoT

QCon takes New York

Effective DevOps and design

Dig Deeper on Software design and development