Design-to-Dev Excellence: Toolstack and Strategies for 2024

Design Delivery
Designers and developers all want to deliver beautiful product experiences. So how do we ensure both groups can do this as seamlessly and efficiently as possible? And how can DesignOps teams and tools help create repeatable processes for this?
We recently partnered with DesignOps Assembly for an expert panel webinar where we discussed these questions — plus the biggest design-to-dev challenges and opportunities for 2024 — with some awesome speakers:
Meredith Black, Founder @DesignOps Assembly
Mark Figueiredo, Sr. Manager, DesignOps @T. Rowe Price
Theresa Slate, Head of DesignOps @Northern Trust
Brandon Perry, Sr. Ops Manager @Zendesk
John Calhoun, Sr. Director, DesignOps @Salesforce
Read the highlights below and watch the full webinar for a slew of strategies to implement within your organization – everything from communications and metrics to how to introduce tools and processes that speeds up designer productivity, rather than slows them down.
Here are a few of the biggest takeaways from the session:

Communication and ownership

The tools that make up design-to-development workflows have infinitely improved in the past decade. And yet, teams are all still running into the same challenges like misalignment, slow production speed, and painful process inefficiencies.
Overwhelmingly, the panel agreed that it all comes down to communication and fully owning your processes. This includes processes that are already in place as well as those newer processes (and maybe tools) you want your teams to onboard and implement.
In all situations, DesignOps professionals should focus on two types of communication:
communication as a core part of the process (which design-to-dev tools can enhance) and
communication about the tools themselves — the purpose, the features, and how it fits into the workflow.
Additionally, tools are just that — tools. They don’t replace good rituals and cadences, which is what DesignOps is there to own and manage. 

For me it's ‘get the tools in place’, but also build rituals and cadences. No tool is going to be a substitute for good communication. And I think good communication starts with DesignOps — building the right rituals and cadences that bring design and dev together, not just at the hand-off point but from end to end, the entire experience or the entire product life cycle.

John Calhoun,
Sr. Director, DesignOps @Salesforce

There’s a consistent call for DesignOps to streamline tools. We have to justify and guide the process of choosing among all the tools and plugins a team might want, even as there are more regulations and need for security especially in this era that we’re in. DesignOps folks can really step in and help navigate that change.

Brandon Perry,
Sr. Ops Manager @Zendesk

We’ve all heard it: “What’s the ROI?”

While the panelists didn’t point to a single universal metric that all DesignOps professionals should track, they did all agree that in most cases you can’t know if an initiative is effective without some sort of measurement.
Maybe it’s measuring “time on task,” or product quality at an enterprise level, or design debt. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something relevant for your organization.

If there's anything that you're finding that your teams are spending a lot of time on, ask your team to tally it down. That's what we did with our QA process. Our team has been slowly saying, ‘Here's how much time I'm spending on QA. How can we make this better?’ It’s not trying to track it all. It’s tracking this little bit that's a problem area, and then you can hopefully look to improve that number over time.

Mark Figueiredo,
Sr. Manager, DesignOps, T. Rowe Price

DesignOps: It’s not nice-to-have; it’s need-to-have

Of course, the elephant in the room is that sometimes DesignOps is perceived as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. The panelists weighed in on how the DesignOps community might combat this perception in their organizations:

The real value of DesignOps is that it gives time back to designers. It decreases the time that designers and dev spend haggling over details.

John Calhoun,
Sr. Director, DesignOps @Salesforce

There's a force multiplier effect when you have someone who can actually focus on [business] problems and you don’t have everyone else scurrying around trying to do that. So that's the definition of DesignOps — allowing your practitioners the ability to use their skill. And a lot of the time what we're doing in ops is not necessarily the skill; designers should be focused on that, not worrying about procurement and getting seats in tools.

Mark Figueiredo,
Sr. Manager, DesignOps @T. Rowe Price

New data on design-to-dev collaboration

Additionally, Meredith Black, Founder of DesignOps Assembly, dropped a few stats from the new 2023 State of DesignOps Report published by DesignOps Assembly and Zeplin.

The findings showed us that not solving design-to-dev challenges results in a decrease in design team motivation — 73% of the people said that. 68% said it results in a decline in design productivity, and 52% said it results in a delay in future launches.

Meredith Black,
Founder of DesignOps Assembly
These stats resonated with all of our expert panelists, and helped turn the conversation towards something that’s also a priority for DesignOps — designer quality of life.

In design-to-dev handoff, people are just tired of explaining themselves over and over again. We also have to include product, because there are so many small conversations between product, design and dev that are not happening in the same place. People get frustrated and features are getting delayed, because changes are happening that aren’t getting communicated. We’re seeing this as one of the biggest causes of burnout.

Theresa Slate,
Head of DesignOps @Northern Trust
Ultimately, there is no magic bullet for design-to-dev operations, but our expert panelists agree that DesignOps has a powerful role in fixing it for the better. It comes down to being critical about your team’s processes, rituals, and tools, being honest about what is and isn’t working well, and prioritizing activities that give time back to your designers and developers.
That’s just a glimpse of what we covered during this value-packed expert panel. Check out the full webinar recording for even more design-to-dev collaboration strategies.
You can also see for yourself how Zeplin improves design-to-dev workflows and frees up more time for your designers and developers by requesting a demo or joining an upcoming live Zeplin group demo.