Brainly’s Design Centre of Excellence and Their Approach to Design Operations

Dare IT x Brainly
2022-06-03

Keeping up with design trends and ensuring that a final product is appealing to its audience can be a challenging task, especially when your service is directed to students, mostly teenagers! That is why Brainly decided to establish a Design Center of Excellence (CoE) that, on a daily basis, supports all Product Design domains within the organization - Design System & Interaction Design, Customer Experience, UX Research, and DesignOps. 

Brainly's Design CoE provides expert substantive support and design operational excellence to allow Product Designers to focus on ensuring that users are, and remain, engaged with their product. 

Anna Wojcieszczak, a Design Operations Manager at Brainly, talks about the importance the company places on the design and how they demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the highest possible standards. She shares her experience as a Design Operations Manager (working as part of the Design CoE) and what she values about being a part of the Brainly team.

At Brainly, how is your design team set up and what makes it so unique?

Brainly is unique because our audience is very special. Our users are primarily teenagers, which means that our designs need to be colorful, vivid, engaging, and attractive. Therefore, our designers need to understand this type of visual language and how to approach our audience. 

What is also worth mentioning is that our designers don’t work in one centralized team; most of our designers work in a “two-in-a-box” model. This means that team members work in pairs; one acts as the Interaction Product Designer and the other acts as the Customer Experience Product Designer. They work together on one project but are responsible for different process aspects. 

Another key element in Brainly’s structure, besides the “two-in-a-box” model, is our Design Centre of Excellence - that I am proudly a part of. This is a specialized team of experts providing guidance, best practices, infrastructure, and tools for designers in the whole organization. We ensure that designers at Brainly have opportunities to grow and have a good understanding of all design and product nuances. Our role also focuses on nourishing the highest possible quality of product design within Brainly - our Design System called “Pencil” plays a crucial role here.

How would you describe the role of a Design Operations Manager and when and why is it beneficial to have one?

The Design Operations Manager needs to understand the design process and environment very well, but they don’t have to be a designer.

The Design Operations Manager helps to improve the efficiency of administrative tasks in the design area, suggesting scalable solutions that consider the budget and capacity of the team. 

The core of my role is to make sure that our designers have knowledge about all necessary design-related processes and all the tools they need to perform their job. The best market practices show that once the organization counts more than 30 designers - and reaches a certain complexity and dispersion in the area of design and its structure - the role of a Design Operations Manager should be introduced to ensure that the designers can focus on their vital tasks. 

Can you describe your day-to-day activities? 

Each day is different - this is definitely not a dull or routine job. Basically, I start each day by checking my email and Slack. Being in touch with the Brainly design community is my top priority. Throughout the day, I am in contact with a lot of internal stakeholders, and I participate in a lot of meetings. Sometimes I support the recruitment process of a new designer, sometimes I join the professional development discussions for someone from our community, and at other times I am negotiating contracts with external vendors, or working on design process improvements with other Design Managers. Literally, each day is different and might be a complete surprise - and I love it! :) 

As DesignOps, I must be responsive and present, but at the same time, deliver my objectives. So there are days when I intentionally plan fewer meetings and less day-to-day team support to concentrate on my objectives, like establishing or rethinking processes, designing improvements, and preparing documentation for particular projects or collaborations that need to be well thought out. 

In my opinion, crucial skills for Design Operations Managers are being well organized, communicative and assertive. Having more than 40 designers on the team, with many reaching out to you about different matters every day, might be a bit overwhelming if you don’t have these soft skills. 

Lastly, as a Design Operations Manager at Brainly, I’m also engaged in external mentoring initiatives. For example, I take part in Design Operations Labs, organized by the Design Ops Assembly, which is an international organization gathering Design Ops professionals worldwide who help each other upskill in their roles and share best practices and experiences.

One of Brainly’s values is “LEND A HAND”, meaning that you’re all in this together. Do you feel this represents your work at Brainly?

Definitely! It’s not just a value at Brainly; it’s a value for each Design Operations Manager. My job is all about lending a hand and helping people solve their issues while working on design projects. 

This particular value is totally how I feel about my day-to-day work and working at Brainly. I handle a lot of administrative or operational tasks that might not always seem super exciting, but knowing that I’m making other people’s work easier or more productive makes it all worth it, and that is why I love this job.

How do you translate the company vision and strategy into team goals, then make them happen?

Recently at Brainly, we introduced a new tool called 'Productboard', which allows us to easily set up and track OKRs, and product and design objectives for the whole organization. 

Once senior management delivers the strategy for the next year, we work in smaller teams to decide how we can contribute to those goals as teams and individuals. It allows us to make sure that we have an impact on the achievement of the greater company goals. As a design community, we are working to deliver the best design quality while achieving business goals. 

This puts a lot of weight on the metrics we collect, to measure the success and impact of our work. The Design Center of Excellence's objectives and strategy always refer to the current design and product challenges and focuses on supporting our designers. Everything we do impacts the whole design community at Brainly - and that’s a big responsibility!

I greatly appreciate being a part of such a design-oriented company. It's wonderful to work closely with such a big group of experts and talented designers!

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