June 23, 2019

DesignOps at Vlocity

Headshot photo of Gaynor Keane


Digital Experience Architect & DesignOps


With Gaynor Keane — Digital Experience Architect & DesignOps at Vlocity.

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

I see DesignOps as an efficiency and design acceleration mindset, in the same way that DevOps is for engineering, along with smart solutions to complex problems (i.e. process simplification) to implement those efficiencies such as Amazon’s sketch-constructor and Dynatrace’s sketchmine for generating production-matching Sketch files from your UI code.

DesignOps is about much more than the tools we use or are hoping to use! Taking from multiple sources I see DesignOps covering: 1. People 2. Education 3. Governance 4. Budget 5. Pipeline 6. Workflow 7. Tools 8. Infrastructure

Typically, a digital designer may currently be involved in some of these DesignOps activities e.g. contributing to a design system of reusable web components, interactions, patterns etc. or nurturing the culture of co-design, collaboration and advanced tooling through a guild/community of practice.

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?

For me it has always been about reducing throwaway and duplicated effort and improving digital accessibility. Accessibility retrofits are way too costly - multiple design and development sprints can easily be saved by introducing inclusive design from product inception and discovery.

I’ve just seen some fresh Australian stats (check out the PwC report ‘The Benefit of Designing for Everyone (PDF)’). With inclusive design baked-in customer reach is 3-4 times more. Five million Australians living with a disability hold $40 billion annual disposable income and there’s $4 billion in potential increased retail industry revenue from better designed products and services!

In my two decades in this field I’ve continued to advocate for accessibility and I’m always banging on about reiterating that inclusive, semantic mobile-first design where most of the quality actually sits beneath the surface leads to minimalist, and customer pleasing products.

The fact that it’s still hard to implement and maintain acceptable standards i.e. WCAG 2.1 Level AA across the board in large enterprises means that governance managed design systems containing reusable web components are an essential part of ensuring those standards are kept, whilst reducing wasted effort on designing and building the same components again and again. This doesn’t destroy creativity this simply allows a lot more time for new product design features and enhancements!

The design system is already in place in my current role and we’re currently taking it to the next level with web components. We also have drag and drop design tools that are constantly evolving so it’s an exciting space to be in for someone like me who’s interests span design and UI development.

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

Vlocity is a unicorn startup providing omnichannel software to help our multi-industry customers accelerate through their digital transformations. In my small diverse and globally-spread team (US, Canada & Australia) which is a mix of designers and engineers we work either independently or jointly on projects and share regularly.

We collaborate on our reusable UI and prototype projects (Figma, Sketch, Invision etc.) and work very closely with the UI engineers, providing guidance on design system use and other accessibility implementation in the build.

The main thing with DesignOps comes back to the mindset of all involved. If we are all flexible with open-minds, listening and collaborating closely we will be moving everything faster in the right direction and maintaining a balance of customer-focused function and rapid UI delivery.

The reality from all this is that there will be a whole lot more beautiful and accessible systems that serve a large percentage of the global digital population. That makes me smile and I can’t wait to see how everything in this field evolves.

How does DesignOps affect 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).

The shared UI kits can halve the time for our design mock ups but we’re still looking at other ways to improve the design cycle such as generating code back into UI kits so we can start our next projects with the accurate production-matching baseline.

In-team/cross-team empathy in our challenging tech environment is a necessity and a real employee experience booster.

The fact is we know we have a lot more to do so we’re all mindful of lessons learned from headaches suffered, so in keeping things truly agile we constantly integrate new and improved efficiencies into our next projects. I’m always keen to hear feedback from engineers as their superbrains are always a massive complement to what we designers create.

What advice would you give to designers wanting to make a career pathway in DesignOps?

Going back to those eight categories I mentioned earlier, there are sooo many options for specialisation within the DesignOps field so take your pick! Always play to your strengths and passions and that will guide you.

If you find yourself at quitting point then you may just be at the final hurdle of that particular challenge. So if you see it through you can enjoy the blue sky feeling of that before you dive straight into your next challenge - because you can’t stand still in tech, but that’s surely why you’re in this game anyway!

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).

I’m always reading interviews or articles and watching videos via Google and LinkedIn, but recorded talks from presentations, meetups and conferences can be the most inspiring e.g. the DesignOps.lol Meetup videos with new product demos, and Denise Jacobs with techniques for creativity and co-design.

There are conferences I’ve been to such as A11y Bytes, Last Conference, Web Directions and UX Australia that have inspired me to course-correct and then some, so I reckon it’s definitely something every designer should make time for and advocate for in their company!