Design Leader Insights - Candace Myers on the Importance of Design Operations

January 16, 2023


Alex Smith: Hi Candace, thanks so much for joining the show today.

Candace Myers: Hi, Alex, how are you?

Alex Smith: I'm doing well. Thanks for asking. Yeah. And as we get started here, can you give the audience a little indication of your background in design, maybe specifically design ops?

Candace Myers: Yeah, absolutely. I actually have a little bit more eclectic background, as I think most design ops people do. So I started as a lawyer doing intellectual property. And sort of like, I don't want to say design law, but it really is intellectual property law. And so I found that working with creatives was actually the part of my job that I liked, and working with lawyers was not the part of my job that I liked. So I pivoted in around 2012 and started doing design ops stuff,I started at a tiny little agency doing b2b product design. And then was able to pivot to Pinterest, where I was heading up the brand team, so doing more like marketing, more calm stuff there.MarCom stuff there. And ultimately, decided I really loved product so pivoted back to product, and joined Facebook, right before the Facebook mission sort of changed to be from friends and family to being about like communities and your interest graph. And so I happened to be the Head of Ops for a tiny little team called Groups,  which ended up becoming a gigantic team over the four years I was there. And we shipped a bunch of different products, Campus, Dating, Neighborhoods, anything that was like community centers, we were really building and incubating there. And now I'm happily at Netflix, and I have a very different team. It's actually like an enterprise tools team or the Netflix movie studio, called studio XD.

Alex Smith: Oh, very cool. So tell us a little bit about that studio and like, sounds like you're designing or helping designers navigate proprietary tools?

Candace Myers: Exactly. So when you think about like what a working movie studio does, it actually starts from what we think of as the content. So like, if you want to greenlight a piece of content, like Bridgerton, or a reality show like Selling the OC. So it starts there. And so we actually make tools for studio execs to understand the content that is in queue. Once a piece of content is greenlit then it goes to legal and finance to make sure we can secure the rights to you know, the humans, the music, the locations, all of that good stuff. Then we move into kind of like a, it's called a Slate, but it really is just like a production tool. Like think about Asana, like a tool for making sure the people and everything is on time. Once production is wrapped, it moves on to post production, which is like green screen work, animation, media work, and then off to globalization, right? To internationalize, so that if something is let's say UCAN specific it can be shared in other regions. And then our final big cohort of products is in the actual, like, MarCom space. So we create the tools that cut all of the visual marketing assets that you see across like out of home, in-home, in product, etc. So it's a huge team.

Alex Smith: So Candace, I'm wondering what advice you have for junior emerging designers or maybe even new design ops professionals?

Candace Myers: For designers, I always say like operations will unlock you way more than you really probably understand. The best designers I've ever worked with, whether they were individual contributors or leadership have always had a really strong operational mindset. And by best I mean, most successful, most innovative and most impactful. I think you can really like you, you can go really deep in craft and be an amazing craftsperson, but if you don't know, the levers for selling through your vision, communicating with others, such a huge piece of the role, and really understanding your operational levers, so where to sell things through or timing, your vision just really isn't going to be successful. So ops probably seems boring after going to design school and like you have all this like sexy work and you're like,  you know, really, you're at some fancy company, but ops I see is really the backbone of any great like design team. So if you don't have a design program manager or coordinator on your team, you can sort of get curious about this stuff yourself.In terms of for junior design ops professionals, I would say get really fluent in UX, like speak the language, you know, it's probably one of the hardest things to learn when it comes to design ops like you can learn the tools, you can learn, like how to run a great pipeline, how to write a great operational brief or program brief. But if you aren't fluent in the language of product design, or brand design, or UXR it's going to hinder your growth and development. And so make sure you're really curious there.

Alex Smith: So Candace, I think we spoke about kind of the basics of design ops, but it sounds like your team's kind of doing some really advanced design things in, you know, studio editing for visual effects and things like that. So how do you understand these really niche design roles?

Candace Myers: Yeah, absolutely. This is a great question because when people hear about design ops, I feel like they get past maybe the first layer of like, oh, yeah, they're multipliers, they're gonna make your work faster and better. But there is the sort of like a 2.0, or 200 level design ops that I don't think gets enough like, I don't know, sunshine on it, which our design ops people like, my team at Netflix, which are over like these really specific domains. So if you think about what the studio product innovation team does at Netflix, which is a world class, actual like movie studio product team is we're like a mini Adobe with like, creating like After Effects type tools, like we're also a mini Intuit, with like finance tools and budgeting tools. And then we're cutting marketing assets, right, we're making tools like cut marketing assets. So this is really like pushing what I like to think of as the forefront of design ops, which is really specific domains that have very little in common, like, even like, think of them as all walled gardens. And then how can we look at the team as really like a monolith of designers and create velocity, take advantage of like, scale, those types of things and sort of think about how are our designers across all of our walled gardens more alike than different. And so I'm not going to lie, it's been a huge challenge to sort of bring the team under like a federal wrapper, I guess, is one way to put it. But I think that if you're thinking about hiring for design ops, or growing design ops on your team, and you're thinking, well, my team is like, so domain specific across all of these areas, I wouldn't even, I wouldn't at all, say that's a blocker for hiring design ops professionals. We really can, like, suss out the individual needs of every designer, which isn't that different, and create opportunities at scale to really unlock them, drive craft velocity, all those good things that everybody wants.

Alex Smith: Is design ops, and should design ops be part of the, you know, I think design ops comes in when there's a growing design team. Are you part of helping grow that design team? And by that, I mean, sourcing designers, recruiting, interviewing, should they be?

Candace Myers: Absolutely, definitely.Having an operational and organizational mindset is really critical, especially for design leadership. Now, the average I see I'm not convinced that design ops needs to be involved. But two places where design ops are really, really critical is organizational design, right? Like, what does our org look like? How is our org positioned? What are our layers? And how are those layers in terms of like design, leadership and cohorts connected to our cross functional partners? Design Ops is great at this right? We can really look at things a little bit more objectively than maybe the average design director or design manager who like wants a team of rockstars. I think the other place is like, you don't have to have an elder team are a really mature team to have design ops like you can, you can actually start a team with design ops at like, let's say, the very beginning, and grow the team with design ops. And I truly and firmly believe that this will actually keep you from operational debt and tech debt that you accrue over time without having like that person whose job it is to organize the team. So you can get five years into something and be like, oh, man, we really need a design ops person. Or you can get five years into something and be like, I'm really glad we have a design ops person.

Alex Smith: Yeah, makes a ton of sense. I think that's all great advice. Where would you point people looking to learn more? Any resources out there that you recommend?

Candace Myers: Yes. So I will shout out to Meredith Brandt, who is one of my mentors. She hired me at Pinterest and took a huge chance on me which was amazing. And she runs the DesignOps Assembly. She's one of the co-founders. And the DesignOps Assembly, which you can easily search on Google or LinkedIn is really a hub of like, basically like all things design ops, right? So it's a community. It is a knowledge library, it is a an interactive like place for workshops, classes, like you name it, right? So it really is like design ops University, I guess it's a great is a way to put it. And so I would say start there because that will just be a pivot point for so many more resources and people. The other thing I would say is like Medium is a great place just to get like design ops or DPM curious. And then of course, like, you know, you could always reach out to people on LinkedIn like people like me.

Alex Smith: Yeah, 100% great advice. And I'm a huge fan of DesignOps Assembly, Meredith's been on the show. Awesome resource. So thanks for shouting that out. And thanks for being on the show today.

Candace Myers: Of course, thanks for having me Alex.