The 14 Most Influential DesignOps Leaders

Sofie Koevoets
Content Marketing Manager
Published16 Jun, 2020
The 14 Most Influential DesignOps Leaders - Superside

Good design is good business. It’s as true today as it was in 1973 when IBM’s Thomas J. Watson, Jr. first said it. Whether we’re talking about consumer tech, health and lifestyle products, or enterprise software—good design sets those industries’ leaders apart. The simplicity of Apple products. The packaging from PepsiCo that stands out on store shelves. The Peloton exercise bike in your living room. There’s a secret sauce that helps these companies scale great design across their products—and that’s DesignOps.

What is DesignOps?

So you might be asking yourself ‘what is DesignOps and why does it matter?’. Well, you’ve come to the right blog post. DesignOps—shorthand for design operations or design ops—is a relatively new structure/role that has come out of a need to produce great design at scale.

You hire designers to design. You’ve got great writers to write. But the realities of the modern workplace don’t always allow for that. Endless meetings, budget reviews, project planning and inconsistent language across organizations eat up valuable time.

According to the Workfront 2019 State of Work survey, the average American knowledge worker spends 60 percent of their workday on tasks that aren’t a core part of their job responsibilities. That’s a lot of lost time and wasted productivity.

This is where a DesignOps professional, consultant, or even a whole DesignOps team comes into play. Going back to that quote from Thomas J. Watson, Jr., if good design is good business then design should be entwined with every part of your organization. DesignOps makes this happen by codifying your design process, feedback loops, coordinating teams, managing design tools and growing the design culture in your company. DesignOps works to create a design language and process that brings consistency to everything your company does.

Though still a relatively new term, there are tons of people interested in learning more about this team ops function. So much so that there's a whole design ops conference dedicated to it.

If you're looking to learn more, we also created an eBook called The Future of Design Operations that you can download for free here.

14 of the Most Influential DesignOps Professionals

It's important to note that this is in no way an exhausive list. There are tons of talented design operations professionals out there! If you're interested in meeting or learning from other DesignOps pros, we encourage you to join the DesignOps Network group on LinkedIn.

We know seeing (or in this case, reading) is believing. Below are 14 influential DesignOps professionals who are making waves in the industry.

Amy Thibodeau

Toronto, Canada

What they do: Director of UX platform and UX ops at Shopify

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: If you buy something online these days, there’s a good chance that the store is powered by Shopify. It’s the go-to platform for e-commerce for several reasons. One that stands out for us is their design system Polaris. Thibodeau led the launch of the design system that delivers that signature shopping experience we use almost every day.

Before Shopify, Thibodeau was a content strategist at Facebook and the inaugural member of their UX team in Facebook’s London, UK office. Here’s a great post from Thibodeau on how they built the style guide for the design system.

Brennan Hartich

San Francisco, USA

What they do: Director, Design Operations at Slack

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Getting your organization to buy into DesignOps is one thing. Managing how your organization adapts and grows is another. At Intuit, Hartich started the DesignOps team and grew it from one to a team of over 20. Today, he leads DesignOps at Slack, a company with over 40 designers on their product design team alone. (You’re probably sharing this on Slack with your team right now).

Hartich spoke about building a DesignOps function for your company at the DesignOps Summit in 2018. You can take a peak at that talk in the video link below. As their team evolved, Hartich worked to create levels for their design team positions to help people grow in their careers. Here’s a post from Hartich on how they approached this.

Purvi Shah

New York, USA

What they do: Head of Global Strategic Design Operations at Visa

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Companies that are design-led perform better, but becoming experience-first takes a major lift. At Visa, Purvi Shah leads an effort to scale the value of design globally and transform the way product is developed through a strategic, human centered approach. Shah often speaks at conferences like the DesignOps Summit on how to lead through periods of organization-wide change.

“Pace yourself. Increasing design maturity means making time and space under ambiguous conditions. Be bold, and have patience – lasting change can’t be rushed.”

- Purvi Shah, Leading Through Change

Adekunle Oduye

Brooklyn, USA

What they do: Senior UX Engineer at Mailchimp

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Though Adekunle Oduye is a Senior UX Engineer and not what some would think of as a traditional DesignOps leader, he actually specializes in building design systems. Oduye is also a volunteer at The Code Cooperative and a mentor at Springboard. With interests in front-end development, interaction design and user research, it seems like there isn't much that Oduye can't do.

At UXINDIA 2019, Oduye presented on "The Three P's of a Design System." He starts by going through his first experience of building a design system from the ground up at a huge corporation with hundreds of designers and many engineers. That system ended up failing, but that didn't stop Oduye from taking this experience and growing from it. Watch the full video below to learn more!

Anne Purves

San Francisco, USA

What they do: Director, Design Operations at Pinterest

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Scaling a business takes champions in every department. When you want to be a design focused organization, you’ve got to be more than a champion for design. You need to be a champion for building design into every aspect of the business. That’s just what Purves does at Pinterest.

“I don't think there is a silver bullet solution for any of this, but I do think the first step to building understanding comes down to building empathy.”

- Anne Purves, The Ongoing Evolution of DesignOps at Pinterest

You can read Purves' full interview on "The Ongoing Evolution of DesignOps at Pinterest" here.

Jose Coronado

New York, USA

What they do: VP Design Operations, Head of DesignOps at JP Morgan Chase

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Building on experience at Fortune 500 companies — including ADP, Oracle and AT&T — Coronado is one of the leading voices in DesignOps. You can often find Coronado at design conferences, such as his most recent keynote “Strategic Value of Design Operations in Organization Transformation” at the DesignOps Global Conference 2020. As organizations recognize the importance of great design as a factor in their success, Coronado promotes a strong DesignOps team to help manage the process, delivery, quality and culture.

In his free time when he’s not running DesignOps at the sixth-largest bank in the world, Coronado edits the DesignImpact digital publication. It’s a great resource on DesignOps and more from design leaders around the world.

Zoe Seaman

United Kingdom

What they do: Head of Design Operations at Capital One (Europe)

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Process in DesignOps is like salt in cooking—a little dash will do you. At Capital One, Seaman focuses on using just the right amount of process and people-centered management to help their design teams deliver quality work across the organization. From a start in product management, Seaman has spent the last 15 years building a solid portfolio in digital and design. Before Capital One, Seaman worked at the UK-based airline bmibaby helping manage their brand.

“Over the past six months I've been refining the onboarding experience for new starters on the Capital One Design team. How do you make the first day, weeks and months of a new starters experience the best it can be? It shouldn't be hard, though in some cases a new starter’s arrival isn’t as smooth as it could be – which is strange, given the effort which goes into the recruitment process.”

- Zoe Seaman, A Guide to Great Onboarding

Alison Rand

New York, USA

What they do: Senior Director, Design Operations at InVision

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Alison Rand is a leader whose work combines strategic design and personnel management systems with project management expertise to enable design at scale. She's an advocate and champion for DesignOps, through and through. From helping curate the Rosenfeld Media DesignOps Community, to Co-Founding the DesignOps Assembly, to leading the charge as Senior Director of DesignOps at InVision, Rand knows a heck of a lot about the subejct.

Oh, and she also started a design podcast with fellow DesignOps professional, Jacqui Frey, who is featured further down in this article—more on that later. Below you can listen to Rand discuss how to run effective design reviews and keeping work visible.

Adrian Cleave

San Francisco, USA

What they do: Director of Design, Growth and Traffic at Airbnb

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Airbnb went up against hotel empires and changed the places people stay when they travel. As the company’s operations scaled, Cleave worked to make the design process more effective by launching its DesignOps team. Cleave’s approach is to focus on compounding small efficiencies. Building on each small win continues to help his DesignOps team drive success for AirBNB.

“Any operationally-focused team that was not directly aligned to a product feature was a good candidate for DesignOps — because their goals could support our mission to amplify and empower cross-functional product teams.”

- Adrian Cleave on DesignOps at Airbnb

Jacqui Frey

Atlanta, USA

What they do: Sr. Director of Design Operations at Mailchimp

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: When you build DesignOps into your organization, you can start to connect teams in new and creative ways. Frey speaks at many conferences and on podcasts about how your organization can learn from other parts of the business, science and social science to scale your design org. Frey would know—she launched the DesignOps team at Atlanta-based MailChimp.

Frey is the other half of Ncommon, a self awareness for design podcast she hosts with Alison Rand. If you haven't guessed it already, the duo discuss many aspects of design, including systems, processes, organization, and yes, operations. You can listen to their episode called Let's talk about DesignOps to hear all about the current state of design operations, where it comes from, what (and who) it looks like and much more.

Jon Reidy

London, UK

What they do: Head of Digital Design System Operations at HSBC

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Building a DesignOps team means dealing with a lot of fragmentation across your organization. Building a DesignOps team at a 150-year-old globe-spanning bank with clients from Nike to Amazon to your grandmother is an order of magnitude more difficult. Leading that charge is Jon Reidy.

Check out his talk from Design Systems in 2019.

Herlency Muñoz


What they do: Head of Ceiba LAB at Ceiba Software

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Herlency Muñoz is a talented systems engineer and graphic designer with over 20 years experience working in SaaS companies. Having worked closely with develpment teams that use traditional and agile methodologies, she takes this same approach to successfully integrate user-centered design systems. Muñoz has been at Ceiba Software for over 10 years now, a company specializing in custom software and mobile app development, along with UI/UX design. Her role has evolved from a UX/UI Designer, to an Innovation and Design Study Manager, to now the Head of Ceiba LAB.

"Using Design Thinking, we look for digital solutions to our clients' problems, we encourage creativity, we generate empathy and we obtain concrete results."

- Herlency Muñoz

Muñoz has run many DesignOps workshops, such as "Leading Creative Teams Through Agile Frameworks" at ILA19, and presented at some of the biggest design conferences in LATAM, including Ágiles2019.

Dave Malouf

New York, USA

What they do: Sr. Director of Strategy and Operations at Northwestern Mutual

Why they're a leader in DesignOps: Dave Malouf is the man who essentially coined the phrase “DesignOps.” A consultant, coach and educator, Malouf is also a speaker and part of the programming committee of the DesignOps Summit. He's a veteran design leader who has worked with some of the largest and fastest growing organizations globally, including Motorola and Hewlett Packard. Taking both his experience and passion, Malouf helps organizations amplify the value they get from their design investments. He's currently respobsible for building and running design operations for the product design organization at Northwestern Mutual.

You can read our interview with Malouf on "How to Know When Your Team is Ready for DesignOps", and watch his talk on "Amplifying Design Value" below.

Patrizia Bertini

London, UK

What they do: International DesignOps Lead at Intuit

Why they’re a leader in DesignOps: Turning an idea into a reality is what designers live to do. For many DesignOps professionals, those first creations were done with LEGO bricks. But LEGOs aren’t just for kids. Based in London, Bertini is the International DesignOps Lead at Intuit. She’s known as a leader in web accessibility, design facilitation and co-creation. She’s also a certified LEGO Serious Play facilitator—applying play to help get the most out of user research.

Bertini recently did a presentation on applying ResearchOps and DesignOps in globally distributed teams. As seen above in her slides, Bertini outlines her challenge at Intuit to harmonise the E2E design processes across all 7 teams, with the goal of increasing operational and spending efficiencies. Sounds like a tough task, right?

After introducing both ResearchOps and DesignOps to the org, here are the results:

  • Teams engaged with 4x users compared to previous year
  • +72% in the number of experiences and tests (was 25%)
  • Lead time reduced by 65% (was 30%)
  • Reduced spending by 60%
  • 430 working days gained

If you don't yet believe in the power of design operations, we're not sure how else to convince you!

The Main DesignOps Challenges

Becoming successful at anything you do takes consistency. It’s the same in business. In today’s world where design-led companies are dominating their industries, having consistent design processes and frameworks makes all the difference.

Building DesignOps into your organization means you’re committing to create a new set of connections across teams. Design has traditionally been a service or support organization in most businesses. Turning that around takes leaders with a strong will and an even stronger sense of empathy and EQ.

Hopefully we’ve convinced you of the importance of DesignOps. But building a DesignOps team isn’t always easy.

As your business grows, so does the demand for your designers. Superside’s DesignOps approach helps teams clear out creative bottlenecks, freeing up internal design time to work on what’s most impactful for your business’s success.

Need more convincing? We wrote the book on it. Download our eBook The Future of Design Operations today to learn more.

Sofie Koevoets
Sofie KoevoetsContent Marketing Manager

Sofie is an SEO and content specialist. From being a journalist at your daily news television broadcast, to producing films and writing travel blogs; she has ended up at the more technical side of content and has a nose for sniffing out the creative pieces that will make your competitors look like digital noobs.

When not busy operationalising Content, she is happily cooking up a storm, hiking through the mountains or searching for the best flight tickets to her next travel destination.

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