May 24, 2018

DesignOps at NORMAN & SONS

Headshot photo of Jo Hoy


Head of DesignOps


With Jo Hoy — Head of DesignOps at NORMAN & SONS.

In your own terms, at a high level, how do you define or think about “DesignOps”?

DesignOps is about structure, tools and team shape. It’s about improving design efficacy in production environments, maximising innovation where its needed and removing it where it’s not.

So many times, in a program or design house I’ve experienced that:

  1. we were all spending a huge amount of time solving the exact same problems, each of us coming up with slightly different solutions

  2. we were very detached from the delivery itself, with a very poor grasp of what was possible, which made us unable to provide helpful input to the delivery, so we were not senior members of the delivery teams.

DesignOps is a method of tackling that.

What was the tipping point for you, where you realised this was something that was required and beneficial in your team/company? Was there anything that made you take notice and decide to venture down this DesignOps path? Or any early wins that made you pursue it further?

Honestly, I’ve been doing this for years - it’s a new name for an old practice. I started my career as a digital producer, and much of DesignOps takes a lot of those production values. Pragmatic design that scales, is accessible, responsive, clear and consistent needs to have a supportive framework and structure behind it.

The Agile trend of the last decade has eroded this in favour of code first, forgetting that the team shape is wider, more diverse; and that without solid underpinning of design, any build, no matter how agile or lean, will just not be as good as it can be.

How does DesignOps effect the efficiency/effectiveness of your day-to-day operations in the team as a whole, and more specifically in the design team? Where have you noticed the most improvements? (ie. Speed of work, frictionless of handovers, happiness of employees, quality/consistency of work etc).

All of the above. At NORMAN & SONS we are an oddity right now, an agency that specialises in DesignOps. Most think that it’s not appropriate for an agency, but I disagree.

Having that structure and understanding in place, embedded in our culture, means we can support more advanced clients, and work with/educate those more behind the curve. Happy team, happy clients, awesome products designed and built.

What does the tooling and flow/process look like for your design team (and development team - if applicable)?

Well that’s a trade secret. We use tools off the shelf, we’ve made a few as well. All geared towards integrated handoff between people. From Product Owners, to UX, UI, front end code, data, copy and back end.

The flow is comparable to Tribes and Squads (if you made me choose one) but isn’t quite that. The “Guilds” don’t work, and that’s where the design fails. Tribes and Squads is just another way of doing agile… it needs a little more (and that’s what NORMAN & SONS can bring to the party), mostly around cross pollination of ideas and processes and creating the social contract underpinning any collaborative effort.

What resources or influences have had the most impact on the way you approach your day to day operations in the DesignOps space? (This could be other companies, books, podcasts, articles, talks etc).

Every single person I’ve ever met in my career. Every project I’ve worked on. And the same for everyone in our team. We all bring insights and experiences, good and bad. All we want are good products. We’re striving to make that happen, DesignOps is the way forward to achieving that.

What is something you believe, that most other people would think is crazy?

Agile doesn’t work. shock horror