The ultimate design stack

“The value of DevOps is to enable continuous design” – Jeff Sussna on users as co-creators

Natali Vlatko
Domino image via Shutterstock

DevOps is important and so is design, so why shouldn’t they be used harmoniously in a successful partnership? Jeff Sussna has coined his own theory behind the concept of continuous design.

“DevOps arose to reduce constraints within that [digital design] lifecycle. As such, I would claim its most powerful value, and perhaps even its essential purpose, is to enable continuous design”. If this statement has aroused even an ounce of your curiosity, then you might want to read on about Jeff Sussna and his concepts about unifying operations and design.

Sussna is the founder of technology consulting firm Ingineering.IT and blogs rather prophetically about his idea of continuous design: the view that design is never done. Instead, it becomes a continual, circular process of designing, producing, using, and learning, which culminates in the usage of a design becoming the input for its redesign, and for the design of new things.

Origins and concept

Sussna’s conclusions have been influenced by writers such as Thomas Wendt, whose ideas Sussna believes have “profound implications for rethinking and improving our approach to designing experiences”. For Sussna, Wendt’s concept of “phenomenological design thinking” implies the need for his notion of continuous design via two key insights:

  • Designers create possibilities for use rather than rigid solutions, meaning that the designer does not entirely control the object’s destiny – it’s use is determined (or co-created) by the designer and the user.
  • Designed objects aren’t just passive targets for human consumption. Instead, through the very act of being used, they change the user and the user’s world – Sussna states that in the process of being used, solutions change the problem space for which they were designed.

As I interpret it, phenomenological design thinking undercuts the notion of designers as gods who create stone tablets to be handed down to grateful users. Users, as well as the world that is the context for their usage, become co-designers. They don’t necessarily redesign things themselves. They do, however, change the meaning of a solution by influencing how it is used, for what purpose, and in what context.

To translate this kind of process into the digital world, Sussna turns to DevOps to help alleviate the pressure that digital design faces: a) the design process itself and b) the digital delivery lifecycle. This is where the “essential purpose” of DevOps comes into play.

Sussna’s upcoming keynote at the JAX London will present the key principles of continuous design and how businesses can harness this concept to have mutually beneficial conversations with their customers and so-called “co-designers”. By using design thinking together with DevOps, Sussna will demonstrate how firms can create real customer value.

The importance of feedback

To round out his continuous design theory, Sussna also believes that feedback is vital to service the pattern of your workflow. Information about how users are experiencing the designs that are released plugs into and is essential to the process:

It’s not enough for designers, developers, and system administrators to talk, collaborate, and share tools. They need to embed each others’ sensibilities within themselves. The people who build and operate production monitoring systems need to understand the kinds of feedback that designers need.

On top of this, designers themselves also need to consider the operators as part of their “design problem”, in order for continuous design to flourish. “Continuous design relies on augmenting product or service functionality with designer learning. Releasing the output of a design process is the beginning, not the end”.

As part of his JAX London keynote, Sussna will also touch on the feedback aspect of his continuous design process. His efforts in using 21st century IT practices will set out to improve service quality by generating meaningful feedback throughout the design-operations lifecycle.

All in all, continuous design is the ultimate path to digital business success, containing the deep integration of design, development, and operations processes. Sussna’s underlying theory is the idea that digital business sells continuous design: “the ability to engage in continuous conversation with customers by creating designs in response to users’ experience of the designs they’ve already created”.

You can read up more on Jeff Sussna’s Ingineering Blog post on “Design as Operations, Operations as Design”.

Natali Vlatko
An Australian who calls Berlin home, via a two year love affair with Singapore. Natali was an Editorial Assistant for (S&S Media Group).

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