DesignOps from blockchain perspective

Don’t let the title scare you, I promise not to get too technical. 

In this post, I will talk about DesignOps, which reserved a seat on the table by promising to improve and optimize ongoing design operations. While telling why DesignOps is a necessity, I will be referring to blockchain technology and concepts that come along with it such as decentralization and autonomy. 

DesignOps, aiming for sustainable quality, creates an environment of dialogue especially for organizations that consist of multi-disciplinary teams. It is a practice that helps designing the experience of designers in the workplace.

What is DesignOps?

Nielsen Norman Group defines DesignOps as “the orchestration and optimization of people, processes, and craft in order to amplify design’s value and impact at scale.”

As a result of these activities, designers (anyone who contributes to solving users’ problems) can focus on research and design with minimum distraction.

From a different perspective, we can see DesignOps as design thinking injected in the design field. Let’s take a look at DesignOps’ scope to better understand the previous sentence.

  • Increase capabilities of design teams.
  • Scouting for new team members with the right set of capabilities.
  • Create effective workflows.
  • Enhance the quality and impact of design deliverables.
  • Come up with sustainable design methodologies.
  • Draw the scope of interactions.
  • Manage interactions and measure the effort.
  • Decompose interaction into specific activities.
  • Define and measure KPIs.
  • Aligning UX work with other related activities.   

3 main principles of DesignOps

1- The necessity of making a definition

I hinted at the beginning that I would refer to blockchain technology to better explain DesignOps. I think we can better understand the importance DesignOps attaches to definitions and documentation by examining the smart contracts that have entered our lives with blockchain technology. First, let’s talk briefly about what a smart contract means. Smart contracts running on decentralized and open-source blockchain infrastructure offer peer-to-peer functionality. In this way, developers can code applications that take advantage of the security, reliability and accessibility that blockchain offers. Code controls execution, so no central authority or approval is needed. When the parties fulfill the terms of the agreement, the transaction takes place and this transaction is transparently documented.

You can actually think of the workflows, manuals, and documentation you create as smart contracts of the operation. Let’s make some comparisons to explain it better:

  • In order for the smart contract to be activated, the conditions determined in the code must be fulfilled. All the rules are clearly included in the code and it is clearly seen what will happen as a result of each action. DesignOps says, prepare your guides, determine the “definition of done” so that an output can be finalized. Just as with smart contracts, set the conditions and clearly state how to take action when these conditions are met. Consider workflows both as detailed as a single line of code and holistically.
  • Smart contracts aim to prevent possible errors by reducing the human factor. DesignOps also suggests the necessity of detaching operations from human dependency by creating effective workflows. While taking a decision, rather than leaving it to the competence of individuals; it relies on the shared decisions of stakeholders, that is, the co-created system, when planning workflows.
  • All rules in smart contracts are accessible to everyone and therefore transparent. DesignOps also supports that design should be produced in a transparent and accessible environment. This transparency makes it possible for other design stakeholders to give feedback to the output. This not only increases the quality of the work, but also prevents loss of time by detecting potential errors early. Another benefit of transparent design processes is that teams can learn from each other’s production. A designer can find the solution they are looking for by examining previous works. Even if they are not looking for a solution, they can apply a method learned from someone else’s work to their own.

With the perspective we gained from these comparisons, let’s examine the need for making definitions further.

Making definitions is agreeing on setting and maintaining quality standards. When this documentation is read by everyone, all parties who will be affected by the processes will be aware of what they are responsible for and the potential outputs. When starting to make definitions, answers to the following questions can be sought:

Are the job descriptions of the people in the design team clear? Are the delivery criteria of the works to be produced by the design team defined? When the person assigned to a task starts working, do they know where to start, what steps to follow and how to deliver the output? Or do they need verbal guidance from someone else?

Also, this documentation avoids the cognitive load that will occur while trying to keep all the information in mind. The document is always in the library and can be accessed whenever needed. In short, definitions and guidelines for transferring current knowledge into the future and establishing a common ground for dialogue between different teams are a necessity.

2- Optimizing the interaction

I mentioned smart contracts in the previous section. Now, while examining DesignOps’ principle of optimizing the interaction, I would like to use the concept of “DAO” (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), which is built on smart contracts.

I’ll give a brief description of DAOs to make sure we’re aligned about the term’s meaning, but I won’t go into too much detail so as not to dilute our main focus. If you want to learn more about the concepts of decentralization and autonomy in operation processes, I suggest you read more about DAOs.

DAOs are blockchain based autonomous organizations where the interaction is carried out transparently through smart contracts, without the need for a centralized administration. Therefore, decisions are made democratically, with no hierarchy. 

Let’s consider the “autonomous” employees that became a buzzword after remote working was widely adopted. They are coveted by employers but in fact, we should talk more about the autonomy of the workflows rather than the autonomy of the employees.

For example, an autonomous vehicle communicates with many circuits simultaneously in order to operate effectively. It is constantly fed with satellite-map information, traffic data and information from many sensors and cameras.

DesignOps argues that similar requirements actually apply to the work processes of teams and individuals. In order to talk about autonomy, designers need to have access to the right tools and gain the competency to use them. Their job descriptions and “definition of done”s for work they will be tackling need to be clearly defined. Also, being informed about how to deal with obstacles that may come in the way and establishing communication channels are prerequisites for implementing autonomy.

If a flow and infrastructure that makes it easy for individuals to find their own way while working is provided, reaching individuals who will adapt to the working model and forming a team will be a much more realistic goal.

I also think that the importance of inclusivity -a natural benefit of interactivity and decentralization- need to be emphasized. 

When we look at it from today’s perspective, we see that the authority of centralized structures is slowly beginning to erode. While decentralized structures allow for contemporary, dynamic, democratic and inclusive structures, it seems that centralized structures will be destined to be described as outdated or even “boomer”. 

If feedback is given regularly, communication between teams is freed from burdens and optimized, all processes are carried out transparently and team members are allowed to improve themselves; a decentralized and autonomous interaction can be designed by providing an infrastructure where action can be taken without the need for the approval of people who can turn into bottlenecks. 

3- Creating impact 

The principle of influence, on which DesignOps focuses, finds its way into NFT Communities and DAOs in the blockchain ecosystem, especially in the context of outside influence.

Let’s rewind together to a not-too-distant history. When I was getting acquainted with NFTs (non-fungible tokens), many people were looking for an answer to the question of “why should I buy a screenshot?”. What distinguishes an NFT collection from another and why one is more valuable than the other had not yet been sufficiently understood.

It is necessary to evaluate an NFT as a commercial product, a commodity, and the value of this commodity is actually determined by the meaning that people attach to it. When assigning a meaning to NFT, that is, assigning a value, two differentiating factors come to the fore. The first is community, the second is crypto token types. Of these crypto tokens, I will only talk about utility tokens.

Utility tokens can provide their holders with various benefits that are valid in the project’s ecosystem. With a utility token, an NFT collector may be earning a direct or indirect commercial income. Thanks to a utility token, it is possible to have a say in the management of the organization (governance token) in a DAO of which you are a member. Without getting too bogged down in technical details, we can take away the word “benefit” from this paragraph and continue.

As another differentiating factor, we mentioned community. These communities are usually founded by the creators of NFT projects and gain meaning when NFT collectors join in. Participants strive to make an impact by sharing their knowledge, time, and sometimes even money with each other for the common good of the community (talking about a commercial benefit here). As collectors believe that they are part of an influential community, their sense of belonging grows and they create interaction by advocating for these projects in their physical and digital environments. Seeing the increased community interaction, other collectors also want to jump in and the community grows, pushing the value of the collection up.

Now, let’s address the question of “what is the differentiating value proposition?” which we ask in NFTs, to companies. What distinguishes one company from another? As a designer, why should I join organization B and not organization A? The answer is still the same, benefit.

DesignOps says that the way you do business should create a functional impact or benefit inside, so that it can create a social impact outside as a natural result. In fact, we touched on the question of “how to create an impact internally?”, in the first two sections. We also sought answers to a functional question, “how effective is the current way of working?”. Let me add a few more to these answers. There should not be a one-way transfer of value from the employee to the company. Employees should be provided with space for their development outside of their duties and responsibilities. By ensuring that team members receive the necessary training, their values ​​and competencies should be increased, and an environment in which value transfer works two ways should be created. In addition, there should be recognition and reward mechanisms in order to effectively announce the work produced internally and externally, and the designers / creators should be compensated properly.

The designer, whose belonging is earned through the impact created inside, embraces his work and benefits the organization/community in two ways. They can both produce a more qualified work and create an impact outside by promoting the community they belong to in their own circles.

High quality works produced with this chain of influence create an environment for the increase in the number of users and the valuation of the organization, and the designers with the right skill set want to be a part of this prestigious organization, which they think will be beneficial for them.

Let’s sum up

While talking about DesignOps’ areas of influence, working principles, and the areas it aims to improve, I pointed out some similarities by looking from the perspective of blockchain technology in order to support my arguments.

We as humans created the technology and infrastructure that enabled blockchain to come to life. We made it happen. Now, by getting inspired from the way it functions, we can create significant positive change in how the design field operates.

I hope I have provided a meaningful perspective in the context of conveying why DesignOps is necessary when designing how you design.