After a few years of exponential growth, Design Ops has found its feet as a practice — just in time to see Research Ops coming right up alongside them.

And just as a few years ago the final destination of DesOps was unclear, it seems the future of ResOps could go a few different directions.

I was curious to find out what DesOps managers thought of the emerging discipline of ResOps, so I reached out to our community for input. Dozens of DesOps professionals responded, and their comments were incredibly insightful.

In this article, I’m going to share the most important learnings from this survey.

There’s no escaping it — ResOps is a critical practice for the future of design and user experience. So let’s get the conversation going!

scrabble tiles and smartphone

Sliding Doors: The Future of ResOps Could Go One of Two Directions

First some quick definitions for those of you who might not be totally familiar with these terms.

  • DesOps (aka Design Ops or Design Operations) manages the design process. Their goal is to reduce operational inefficiencies and get design into the hands of users quickly.
  • ResOps (aka Research Ops or Research Operations) manages the customer and user research process. Their goal is to reduce operational inefficiencies and get research insights into the hands of stakeholders quickly.

For our survey, all of the participants were DesOps managers. In regard to company size, 64% of the respondents worked for 1,000+-person companies and 36% worked for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees (12% of the companies had 10-100 employees, 12% had 100-500 employees, and 12% had 500-1,000 employees).

In the survey, I asked DesOps managers how they see DesOps evolving as a discipline, and if they see Research Ops being part of that evolution or evolving as a separate discipline.

Considering that 74% of our survey respondents said that DesOps is currently not responsible for ResOps in their organization, I was surprised to find that the response to the question of ResOps evolution was split relatively evenly.

  • 33% believed the two practices would integrate in the future
  • 38% predicted they would remain separate
  • 29% had no strong opinion either way
“You cannot live in silos, integration is basic.” - DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company
“They should remain independent but linked and mutually supportive.” – DesOps manager, 10-100-person company.

Interestingly, most respondents who worked for a company with 1,000 or more employees believed that DesOps and ResOps would remain separate in the future. This makes me wonder: Could the availability of resources affect how ResOps evolves in smaller companies versus larger ones? That may be a question for the next survey!

Together DesOps and ResOps Bring More Value to the Table

While DesOps and ResOps may have different (yet sometimes overlapping) objectives, most of the DesOps professionals we surveyed believed one thing for sure: They make more of an impact when they work together.

“I see it becoming a combined role - in order to design you have to research and understand the market in which you are designing a product for.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“My role is a bit non-traditional from my perspective. I see my role in Creative Ops moving more into the space of L&D in order to cultivate talent. For me, cultivating talent is a never-ending cycle that drives continued organizational health. I see Research Ops as a part of the role in the future, moderating the intersection of talent and tools.” – DesOps manager, 100-500-person company.

DesOps and ResOps Are Growing — but Not Always in the Same Direction

It seems many DesOps professionals believe their discipline is growing in a more creative, qualitative direction, while ResOps is moving more toward quantitative, analytical activities.

“I think Design Ops is also evolving into platform ops to ensure there is more end-to-end connectivity for digital products. I don’t see research ops being part of design ops, as most strategy and insights departments (which include research) are maturing and growing with more direct lines to CEOs.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“Our Design Operations is separate from our Research team. I see Design Ops evolving into a more qualitative design-strategy team, versus a more linear quantitative team. Though we have mainly hired from traditional PM or Production backgrounds (albeit in advertising/creative fields), Design Ops seems to require a more creative streak than maybe originally understood. Which is exciting to figure out, as it breaches left brain and right brain qualities which is a bit unique.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“Hard to say. In some ways it might all become just ops however DOps and ROps are focusing on pretty distinct issues as concentric circles.” – DesOps manager, 500-1,000-person company.
“I think as technology evolves, there will be more tools in the next 2-3 years to streamline design operations. Design operations as a discipline can function without the involvement of research, but research ops needs design ops to include them in the process in order to participate in the process.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“They intertwine, but have separate objectives. CreativeOps is focused on infrastructure, tech and team/human, best practices, efficiency and managing cost against ROI. ResearchOps is an extension of Data Analysis, Market research and intended creative implications in a market place.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company

Many DesOps Managers See ResOps Evolving as a Sub-Discipline of DesOps

Because the end-goal (a better customer experience) is often the same for both practices, it makes sense that DesOps and ResOps would be intertwined. Many of our survey respondents actually see the intertwining happening at the departmental level, with ResOps is evolving as a sub-discipline of DesOps.

“Research is an important, if not, the most if not, the most important Pillars behind Design. I don’t envision research to be a separate discipline but a much specialised practice within Design.” – DesOps manager, 100-500-person company.
“Research ops usually lives within design ops.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“I see Research ops as a sub-discipline of design ops.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“In the next 2-3 years, I believe that Design Ops will handle all operations associated with Design meaning that it will encompass Research Ops as well. There needs to be a single team who can oversee a design org from beginning to end in order to make the biggest impact.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“I think they should evolve together. I personally see design ops as a service to both the design org and the company at large, so that would include facilitating research ops.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.

Often the Roles Overlap

The idea of overlapping roles, values and goals came up many times over the course of this survey. No matter if the respondent thought that DesOps and ResOps worked better as distinct roles or functioned more efficiently within the same organizational structure, it is clear that many aspects of the two disciplines overlap in practice.

“In our Design org, designers are responsible for conducting routine user research. The Research team also interviews users, but they’re generally looking at bigger, strategic initiatives. I really see Research Ops as a separate discipline from Design Ops, but I could see them overlapping if, for instance, Research Ops needed assistance with process or scaling.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“We currently have these under the same team, but consider them separate. There is a ton of overlap in goals and value brought to our teams, it makes sense to keep them together.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“I see them running independently, but I as the Design Ops Mgr may take on some of that responsibility as it becomes too much for our current UX Research Mgr. My guess is that I'll handle Ops for Design and Ops for Research when needed.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
together now

There’s No Doubt DesOps Is Growing — but Some Managers are Unsure How ResOps Will Fit In

Many of our survey respondents see DesOps continuing to grow quickly as the demand for more innovative solutions and faster delivery continues to grow. They could see how the value of ResOps would also continue to grow, but how it would grow was in question.

"Design Ops is growing because companies are under constant pressure to innovate and be first to market with new ideas for their customers. Research for the moment is more embedded in product teams." – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“I keep hearing that the Design Ops community is becoming more of a ‘thing’, though I feel I lack the context or insight to prove that. My own company's design org has grown and continues to grow immensely, so there is more need to manage some aspects of it in depth, though ‘design management’ (that is to say - people that come already with a design or product background) do in some ways seem more well-positioned to play this role. We are having trouble distinguishing between what aspects of this management are to be handled horizontally by DesOps, or from a federated ‘design management’ model. I think ResOps should and could grow as ResOps matures, but unsure if it will or not” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“DesignOps will grow as we share the value to our clients. ResearchOps is currently a part of DesignOps but we see the value of growing it as a separate discipline if we continue to offer research as a stand alone offering.” – DesOps manager, 100-500-person company.
“Research ops is part of this growth. We anticipate growing the research ops team from 1-3 over the next year. We need more customer recruiting support so our Ops coordinator can focus more on the Operations aspects.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“Right now, our UX & Design Team is 24 people, including just 1 Design Ops person and 0 Research Ops people. In the next 2-3 years, I see Design Ops evolving to 2-4 people, and hiring 1-4 additional people to build up Research Ops as it's own discipline.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.

No Matter What, DesOps and ResOps Need to Remain Aligned

While the focus of DesOps is on breaking down barriers for design, and the focus for ResOps is doing the same for research, in the end their objective is often the same: a better customer experience.

“I see Research Ops as a vertical within the Operations discipline. It is important that they share the same principles as they grow together. But I do think Design & Research should be a partner in the same way Design & Product, Design & Strategy, and Design & Engineering our partners. Specifically, Research Ops does have separate research-specific needs that should to be operationalized such as intake, participant recruiting, knowledge sharing, etc. that live in a different context to design.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“The ultimate goal is better project design, implementation and results.” – DesOps manager, 10-100-person company.
“Yes, with design and research so closely paired together I see such value in having insight to each work streams process.” – DesOps manager, 500-1,000-person company.
“I see every industry focusing more on design ops as the world moves more toward automation and the difficulties in filling the workforce increase. I feel research ops will grow with design ops as people realize the best design is dependent on the research that goes into it.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.
“Research Ops has many different forms. I see advantages to Research Ops being part of Design Ops, but I don't necessarily think that it is required as long as the two teams understand the dependencies between each other.” – DesOps manager, 1,000+-person company.

No matter how DesOps and ResOps grow in the future, it’s crystal clear that their futures are intertwined. Design cannot function effectively without customer and user research, and Research needs Design to deliver on what customers and users are asking for.

How do you think DesOps and ResOps will evolve in time? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!