Design Operations: 6 Tips To Streamline Your Design Process
Pedro Bacelar • 10 April 2023
As your business and team grow and your design needs become more complex (several features, product areas, different customer segments, etc.), it's important to have a solid design operation in place.
This will not only ensure that your projects are executed smoothly and efficiently, but it will also provide you with the framework you need to scale your design efforts as your business continues to expand.
In this article, we'll go over the key components of a reliable design operation, so you can be prepared for the next phase of your business. Check it out!
1. Track Progress & Report your Design Operation
Setting up a reliable design operation involves a few key elements: progress reporting, milestones, and reporting tools such as design cards.
Effective progress reporting is key to keeping everyone on the same page. It allows you to track the progress of your design projects and make adjustments as needed. This is crucial to keep projects within a reasonable scope, which is critical to delivering high-quality work on time.
Milestones are key markers that indicate progress in your design projects. You can then use these product milestones to break down your goal into smaller, manageable design tasks and track your progress as you go.
Design cards are a way to visualize granular achievements of your projects (features, improvements, research outputs) and communicate them to stakeholders more constantly, correcting the trajectory as needed.
2. Use Reliable Communication Tools in your Favor
In today's fast-paced work environment, communication is critical. Several tools allow your design team to collaborate effectively. These tools are great for real-time updates, feedback, discussions, and scope management, and they help you keep your projects organized and on track.
Task management systems like Asana, ClickUp, Jira, Trello, etc. should be the source of truth for async progress reporting. All major deliveries and blockers should be discussed and documented there by designers.
Slack or Teams can be awesome for quick decision-making. You don’t need to schedule a call for each microdecision that appears, so designers should use Slack wisely to unblock their work.
Figma comments are also a very powerful feature to provide specific and contextual feedback to prototypes, diagrams, exploratory UI, design system components, and specs. Though it’s key that designers manage the pending comments frequently so it doesn’t become a graveyard of unattended feedback.
3. Choose a Design System to Work With
A design system is a collection of design structures that are used consistently across all your design projects and deliverables. It includes your brand's visual identity, typography, color palette, and more. A design system helps to maintain a consistent level of quality and maintainability while helping streamline your design process.
Figma is a cloud-based design platform that enables teams to create, collaborate, and publish designs. It offers a range of tools for designing interfaces, prototypes, and graphics, making it an all-in-one solution for digital product design. With Figma, teams can work together in real-time, streamlining the design process and saving time by eliminating the need for multiple rounds of review and revisions.
Figma also offers a powerful design system tool, which allows teams to create and maintain a library of design components and styles, ensuring consistency across projects.
Additionally, Figma provides tools for version control, design feedback, and collaboration, making it a valuable tool for designers, product managers, developers, and other stakeholders to work together effectively.
Proprietary vs Third-Party Design Systems
Here at Vinta, we use Figma to develop both proprietary design systems and leverage third-party design systems to build your product.
A proprietary design system is a custom set of design guidelines and components developed specifically for a company or organization. The benefits of using a proprietary design system include complete control over the design process and the ability to create a unique brand identity. By developing a custom system, organizations can ensure that their design is aligned with their brand and business goals. Additionally, proprietary design systems offer more flexibility and customization options compared to third-party systems.
On the other hand, a third-party design system such as MUI or Ant Design is a pre-existing design framework that can be easily integrated into an organization's design process. The benefits of using a third-party design system include faster implementation, reduced development time and cost, and a large community of users who can offer support and insights.
Third-party systems also offer a consistent, standardized approach to design, which can be especially useful for organizations with multiple teams or projects. Additionally, third-party systems are often updated regularly, ensuring that organizations have access to the latest design trends and best practices.
In summary, whether to use a proprietary or third-party design system will depend on an organization's specific needs, goals, and resources. Both options have their benefits and trade-offs, and the decision should be made based on a careful evaluation of the organization's design needs and priorities
4. Think About Research Ops
Research is a valuable part of the product work, and having a solid design research operation in place is critical to delivering high-quality outputs. This will help you generate valuable insights, avoiding faulty investments in features that may not support your business growth.
Providing templates and guides on how to output research outputs helps to standardize the process and ensures that everyone is on the same page. This helps to streamline the research process and makes it easier to communicate research findings to stakeholders.
Besides, there are tools that help to manage and organize research data, allowing your design team to collect and analyze data, and to easily communicate findings with everyone. These tools shorten the research process and make it easier to make data-driven decisions:
- Dovetail is a design research platform that helps teams collect, organize, and analyze user research data. It allows teams to easily store, access, and share research data, making it an essential tool for user research and product design. With features like project management, data visualization, and collaboration tools, Dovetail is a powerful tool for design teams to understand and validate their users' needs.
- Maze is a design research and user testing platform that helps teams to collect user feedback and iterate on their designs. It offers features such as task recording, live user testing, and feedback analysis, making it a valuable tool for designers to gain insights into the user experience. With Maze, teams can create and distribute tests to users, collect and analyze feedback, and use it to inform their design decisions.
- Lookback is a design research platform that enables teams to collect qualitative data through remote user testing and in-person usability testing. It provides a range of tools for capturing, organizing, and analyzing user feedback, including screen recording, voice recording, and participant feedback. Lookback makes it easy for designers and researchers to gather data on user behavior and experience, helping teams to make informed design decisions based on real user feedback.
5. Be Aware of Design Debt
As design projects pile up, design debt can quickly become overwhelming. Keeping track of design debt is crucial to staying on top of your projects and ensuring that all design work is completed in a timely and efficient manner. Here are some examples of design debts that you may experience:
- Technical Debt: it refers to the shortcuts or quick fixes that are made in the design process, which may lead to technical problems or limitations in the future. For example, using outdated technology or using a design solution that is not scalable can create technical design debt;
- Brand Debt: it occurs when a company fails to maintain consistency in its visual identity, causing confusion and dilution of the brand. For example, using different color palettes, typography, or imagery across different products or platforms can create brand debt;
- Usability Debt: it refers to design problems that negatively impact the user experience. For example, using a confusing navigation structure, poor accessibility, or ignoring user feedback can create usability debt. Usability debt can be difficult to quantify, but it can have a significant impact on user engagement, adoption, and satisfaction.
These are just a few examples of design debt. It's important to track and manage design debt regularly to ensure that the design operation is efficient and that the end product meets the needs of the users and the organization.
6. Invest in Regular and Effective Training
A collaborative and informed design team is key to the product’s success. In order to achieve the best results, it's important to train designers to work effectively with product leaders, engineering, customer success, sales, marketing, and other stakeholders.
- Onboarding Process: an effective onboarding process is crucial for ensuring that new team members understand your design processes and are able to work effectively with the rest of the team. This includes training on design tools, design processes, and the company's design philosophy;
- Retros & Post Mortems: retros and post-mortems are key tools for reviewing the success of design projects and identifying areas for improvement. By regularly reviewing your design processes and outcomes, you can identify areas for improvement and make changes that will lead to more successful projects in the future;
- Team Training: regular team training is a great way to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on the latest design techniques and processes. This includes training on design tools, design processes, and the company's design philosophy. Regular training help to keep everyone on the same page and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
Complex products must develop a strong design operation to be able to scale efficiently.
As businesses and teams grow, having a solid design operation in place becomes essential. This involves tracking progress, using reliable communication tools, choosing a design system to work with, and thinking about research operations.
By implementing these key components, teams can execute projects smoothly and efficiently, while also being able to scale design efforts as the business expands.
Get to know more and learn how we roll our design operations here, at Vinta!