Closing Keynote: Amplify. Not Optimize.

Dave Malouf
Design Consultant, Coach, Educator

From the DesignOps Summit website:

We currently describe, frame, and promote Design Operations as being all about efficiency. While we might not ever say the term “ROI” out loud, we certainly sell DesignOps as means for optimizing our organizations’ investments in their design and research teams and infrastructure.

But if DesignOps is going to truly be the game-changer it can and should be, we need a better framing. We need a new framework, one that emphasizes the topline—the creation of value—over bottomline fixation on resource optimization. We need a framework that accounts for supporting the projects, people, and practice of design over the groupings of pixels and management of components. This new framing is at the root of DesignOps framework that Dave Malouf will share in his closing keynote.

Dave is a friend, an ally, a thought leader, a community builder, and a brilliant speaker.

Dave is from this area, and he shared a map of Long Island and the tribes that were here prior to colonization. We want to acknowledge that we’re gathering on the lands of the Cararsie and Lenape peoples. [Note from Natalie: You can find maps of the tribes from your area at].

Ask yourselves – why you are a design operator? You made a commitment to be here. How often have we asked ourselves why we’ve chosen the job? He is going to start with his origin story.

This part of his story started in 2003, when IXDA was born – it was a fledgling Yahoo! Group at the time. It brought a whole diverse group of people together, including industrial designers and architects. He went to night school at Pratt, and he learned that he has no aptitute for drawing and making models … but his curiosity continued. Rowena Reed Kostewlow started the industrial design program at Pratt.

He got a job at a company that eventally turned into Motorola. He learned as an interaction designer around industral designers. Award winning design studios didn’t just have amazing designers, but they thought carefully about how to craft their operations, their tools, and making their work inter-operable with cross-functional partners.

Later, he ended up at the Savannah College for Art & Design. Industrial design, marine design, furniture design, design for sustainability, and many other fields were all taught there in a crucible of design practitioners coming together. His students were amazing but they had all the tools they needed in order to succeed. What he discovered is that he loved design amplification.

But, what is it that I am amplifying? Is there a value I’m making to happen better, and if so, what is it? Design’s chief value is that it amplifies – it turns a 10 from an engineering concept into an 11 or a 12.

A three-legged stool – engineering, design, business … the stool is stable. But that is missing that the sweet spot is really about VALUE. So, in his mind, there is no value if nothing is built. So value starts in production / development. If you start amplifying that with engineering, gives it stability, performance. After that you have the business – product mangement giving it focus and direction, and marketing wrapping it up in a consumable package. Design works across all of those phases.

Design is a team sport – Alistair talked about that this morning. But designers can’t only work on design if they are going to be amplifiers. What makes good design happen? That is my role as a design operator.

It comes down to this core statement:

The value of the designing is in the verb.

Giving an identity, giving something a form. It starts with sketching, we get to practice, it doesn’t need to be good. We create models to communicate ideas, to give form to ideas, and we create 3D models to understand behaviors. And there are final forms like a Bauhaus poster, or a calculator. We are communicating possibilities through those forms.

Designing also creates clarity. Through the forms that we make, and the language that we use. It is also about the navigation – the information architecture.

In behavioral fit, we are aligning our forms to human behaviors.

And finally exploration, that place where we get to go crazy for awhile. He is all about the first diamond. That’s tough in a world that just wants to execute all the time. We do that in rough sketching and working to make connections, and telling stories.

This may sound like a Design 101 class, but through a survey we learned that half of the community participants were not designers before becoming a design operator.

Stockholm Syndrome. We’re not Patty Hearst, but the idea here is that we have been playing with the languge of others. We have been giving away our language so that we can have impact. Use their language, but help them understanding the meaning of your words as well. They need to understand you, too.

The agile manifesto is premised on a deliverable, not on VALUE, not how we’re going to do it better. And many of us are not just working in software anymore. It’s framed for recovery, and for speed. But it should be looking at depth, purpose, and vision.

So, how can we do things differently? How might we make design (and designing) happen better. This is the prime directive for us as design operators. Let’s assume that it will have the necessary impact on business – that is design’s job. Here are seven points:

Cadence. Different activities happen at their most appropriate cadence. There is the notion of sprints, timeboxing in some way. It is an important constraint – but we need the right constraint for the right activities. Wholes needs to be created before parts, which means you can’t start by building the parts.

Intentional spaces and processes. These encourage serendipity, emergence, and exploration. We need spaces to externalize work, and both time and space away for reflection, play, and more.

Balancing qualitative and quantitative, so data are synthesized into actionable insights. Dave’s tri-track production cycle allows people to work on different cadences:

He is a big fan of having dashboards to show work.

Collaboration and inclusion are balanced with coordinated, focused development. We need to have a better balance between coordination and collaboration.

We understand that what attracts and motivates engaged designers is different from others. Meet people how and where they are.

We need to understand and value what quality design output looks like.

It is great moment to see all these operations functions emerging. There has always been design operations, but we have a name for it now. That tells him that experience design itself, operations is a valuable component for business success. So we are all design amplifiers – be loud, be proud, create the scaffolding. Help to create a mission that enables successful outcomes. Coach people to get better, and get them away from things they shouldn’t be doing. Monitor the health of the practice as a whole – keep the old stuff healthy, too. Focus on value, then optimize on speed and more … but not at the expense of value. Find moments for the team to practice – like baseball player in a batting cage, or a dancer at the barre. The team needs to do their work as close to unconciously as possible so that we can see and respond quickly if things go off track. Safe (not the framework); we have to provide both safety and agency at the same time. Risks of exploration need to be met confidently.

Dave has created a document with some of these ideas, which is available at It is a Google doc that he would like us to contribute to. Let’s get as many and multiple voices as possible (unlike the Agile Manifesto).

Thanks to the team behind this event:

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