I believe in starting a conversation with fellow professionals and learning from their experiences. Making their perspectives available to the whole community is one step forward in spreading the message about the importance of UX. That’s why I have started a project of #UXFika – lightweight conversations with inspiring UX, Design and Product leaders over a cup of coffee (or two!).

This week’s special UXFika guest is Josue Martinez – Design Ops Manager at Go Guardian – a software company helping millions of school students maximize their learning potential by creating a safe and effective digital learning environment. Josue has experience in many areas of product design and understands that delivering great experiences requires getting design right.

In this interview, I outline what DesignOps is and why it’s important. Enjoy!

What is DesignOps according to you and how did you evolve to be one?

I define DesignOps as force multiplying a design team. The sole purpose of DesignOps is to enable designers to focus on the work that they were hired for – solving complex business problems that are easy to navigate for users.

How did I get here? I’ve been a systems thinker and designer. I’ve tended to navigate towards projects and companies that focused on solving issues at scale. Once I learned about the DesignOps field, it completely garnered my attention.

What does your normal day look like? And what makes a day, a good day, for you?

I’m in a hybrid role where I split my time between being a UX Lead and being a DesignOps Manager. When I focus on DesignOps, I’m thinking about how I can propel the work of the entire design team at scale. Our team is currently at 7 designers, but I’m constantly making process improvements that could work at our current size and at 16 designers, if and when we get there.

A good day is one where I have made progress in elevating the design team’s effort. It’s one where I overhear a designer has been able to have the time to make a breakthrough in their design project because a DesignOps process freed them up to solve a user problem.

What are the key challenges of operationalizing research and design in growing organizations and how to overcome them?

Unfortunately, when you don’t have a dedicated research team then the design team needs to split it’s time doing two distinct roles. In these cases, I’ve looked at helping the design team to alleviate some of the work by introducing processes that can help designers save time. One of these was creating a design system that led to designers spending 50% less time in the pixel creation phase. Doing this gave designers 50% more time to focus on getting to the root causes of user issues, instead of spending their very limited time working in the pixel.

What are your tips and insights on how to grow design and research in your company more efficiently?

It’s a couple of things:
– Take a look at where the gaps are in the team(s) and hire for those.
– Prioritize hiring. If the research team is overwhelmed with work, then we should look at hiring a researcher before hiring a single product dedicated designer. The researcher will be able to alleviate more work across the organization, opposed to a designer that would help execute work for one product vertical

How do you handle design to developer handoff as a design ops?

I led a couple of sessions with the Engineering and Quality Assurance (QA) leads to discuss the Design/ENG handoff process. We identified the best opportunities where all three teams could review work early and often to avoid design rework. Progress is being made on creating a design QA process that helps to identify areas where the build might have deviated from the user tested design. The long term goal is to empower the QA team to apply a set of design principles when reviewing engineering builds.

What have you learned along the way in terms of what makes a successful team during your career?

Teams that have open channels of communication and collaborate early and often tend to succeed. As companies grow, some tend to deviate away from being agile and shift to a more waterfall-y way of working. If the product teams (PM, Design, Eng, QA) are communicating and collaborating, then the pitfalls of miscommunication or tech limitations can be accounted for and hopefully completely avoided.

What’s the ROI (for lack of a better term) of DesignOps or how do you measure your success? Some organizations won’t see the value, and designers may have to make a strong case for it, even for minimal effort. What’s the logic or business rationale that they can argue with?

That’s the constant question that needs to be answered, we’re still in the early days of building out the DesignOps department. The short answer is that we’ve been able to show metrics in regards to increased productivity, increased team sentiment and job performance. We collect this data via surveys and interviews with individual designers to look at how the team is feeling at a micro (1on1) and macro (survey) level. For every 1 hour I spend in DesignOps it leads to 3 hours of productivity for the average designer.

For designers and researchers out there who want to have a bigger impact on their organizations, what do they need to do to achieve that?

More times than not, folx are competing to take on the most “prominent” project. I’d argue to do the opposite. I’ve made my career by taking on projects that other designers didn’t want or deemed the project as dull. Pursuing these projects has lead to me having the chance to experiment a lot and deliver value. I’ve had a history of turning the unwanted projects into ones where other designers want to be a part of going forward. Every project is an opportunity to explore and discover innovative ways of alleviating user problems while meeting complex business needs.

What excites you about the future of design?

I’m really loving that accessibility is now front and center. The internet was created to democratize access for all. The amount of exposure that people are getting to well crafted and accessibly designed products is ever increasing. For a number of us, we no longer have to make a case as to why accessible design is important; instead now is the time that we can further democratize access for more people, regardless of ability, could use well designed and fully accessible products.

Extra bits

Your favorite recent read:

I just finished reading the The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a quick read on building a healthy organization that is craft-fully written in a storytelling format.

Design trends that should die?

Unusable Dribbble shots. Dribbble is great for showing high polished visual design assets but a good percentage of the work that is on there isn’t applicable to product design sadly.

Who’s work do you follow and admire?

I’m really digging the quality and the high amount of work that Pablo Stanley is cranking out. Does he even sleep?!

About the UX Fika Series

In UX Fika series of blog posts, I talk with people that inspire me and whom I look up to as my role-models. The motivation behind doing this is, you might see some patterns and hopefully you’d be able to learn from the amazing people that I have had a chance of learning from.

For my international friends, FIKA is a Swedish concept, a state of mind, an attitude and an important part of Swedish culture. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea). With no rush, full immersion and being present in the moment. That’s why I thought “UXFika” is a perfect name for meaningful conversation with UX leaders I look up to.

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