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Meredith Black: A new era of DesignOps

Meredith Black: A new era of DesignOps

Episode 68 of the Design Better Podcast

Design Operations, or “Design Ops,” is entering a new era. No longer the new kid on the block, it’s becoming a required discipline in many design organizations. We wanted to catch up to see where design ops is now, so who better to chat with than Meredith Black, a guest from our second season back in 2018.

After leaving Pinterest, where she was head of Design Operations, Meredith co-founded the DesignOps Assembly, which focuses on fostering community, offering educational opportunities, sharing resources, and generating best practices within the DesignOps Industry.

We chat with Meredith about what’s changed with design ops in the past four years, the skills that a person needs to be successful in a design ops role, and what she’s hoping to accomplish with the DesignOps Assembly.

Thanks for listening to the Design Better Podcast! Subscribe for free to receive episodes a week early, bonus content like post-show discussions, and more.


Meredith Black is the co-founder of DesignOps Assembly and now a consultant working with companies worldwide to implement DesignOps within their organizations.

Prior, Meredith spent five years at Pinterest, where she started and grew the DesignOps team into an internationally renowned team while also being instrumental in growing and building the Pinterest Product Design Team.

You can listen to her discuss DesignOps on an earlier episode of the Design Better Podcast, or check out “The DesignOps Handbook.” Meredith is also the co-host of the Reconsidering Podcast, along with our very own Aarron Walter.

Summary (via ChatGPT 🤖)

This episode of the Design Better Podcast discusses the evolving field of design operations (design ops) and its increasing importance in the design community. In this episode, Meredith Black, co-founder of Design Ops Assembly, shares her insights on the growth and changes in design ops over the past four years, the skills needed for success in the field, and her goals for the Design Ops Assembly community.


  • 🎧 The Design Better Podcast focuses on design ops and its impact on collaboration, creativity, inclusivity, and impact across various disciplines.

  • 🌐 Design ops has evolved from being a niche role to an established practice within design teams across the world, becoming more defined and widespread.

  • 📈 The growth in design ops can be attributed to the pandemic forcing remote work, the growth of design teams, and the realization of the need for efficient collaboration and coordination.

  • 🤝 The Design Ops Assembly, founded by Meredith Black, has grown to almost 4,500 members on their Slack channel, with over 15 chapters worldwide.

  • 🛠️ Design ops roles can vary depending on the size of the organization and design team, with some focusing on program management, learning and development, or headcount and budget management.

  • 🎯 The main goal of design ops is to enable and support designers to focus on their work, by managing projects, resources, and processes.

  • 📚 Design Ops Assembly offers a forum for sharing resources, best practices, and knowledge within the design ops community.


Meredith Black (00:15):

With any fast moving profession, there's a lot to be defined and there's a lot that can also be a little bit murky and go wrong. So I think we're kind of in the stage right now where we're trying to define what design ops means and trying to help bring a new era of design ops practitioners into the design community.

Voiceover (00:38):

Better products and experiences take more than just great engineering and design teams to materialize. They rely on collaboration across disciplines, from marketing to legal, to human resources and beyond. In season seven of the Design Better Podcast, we'll be exploring what it takes to make work more collaborative, creative, inclusive, and impactful throughout your organization. Along the way, we'll learn from our guests how to raise the collaborative intelligence of your teams with insights from experts like Guy Kawasaki legendary Macintosh evangelist, and near I all best selling author of Hooked and Intractable. This podcast is hosted by Aaron Walter and Eli Willy and is presented by Envision a transformative collaboration platform for all the work you do. Discover more best practices, research and resources for and inside

Eli Woolery (01:36):

Design operations or design ops is entering a new era, no longer the new kid on the block. It's becoming a required discipline in many design organizations. We wanted to catch up to see where design ops is now. So who better to chat with from Meredith Black, a guest from our second season back in 2018

Aarron Walter (01:55):

After leaving Pinterest where she was the head of design operations, Meredith went on to co-found the design ops assembly, which focuses on fostering community, offering educational opportunities, sharing resources, and generating best practices within the design ops industry. We chat with Meredith about what's changed in design ops in the past four years since we last spoke. The skills that a person needs to be successful in a design ops role and what she's hoping to accomplish with the design ops assembly.

Eli Woolery (02:28):

Enjoy our conversation with Meredith and thanks for listening.

Aarron Walter (02:36):

Meredith Black, welcome back to the Design Better podcast.

Meredith Black (02:41):

Thank you so much for having me back.

Aarron Walter (02:44):

It's always a delight to talk to you and we want to talk about design ops today because there's probably no other authority in the world as informed as you are on this topic. So listeners will recall that Meredith joined us on this show. I think it was probably 2018 and things were very different back then. So I'm curious, like thinking back to that time, what was the state of design ops back then?

Meredith Black (03:13):

Yeah, it's been a crazy four years. I will say that so much has changed within design operations and I remember when the three of us were having the first conversation, there was barely anybody in the role. It was growing. There were a handful of us. We were trying to leverage each other and figure out what design ops really meant, how to define it, how to help design leaders. And fast forward today, design operations is like an established practice within design teams, not only just in the US but all over the world. It's quite fun to see, but it's also kind of terrifying if we're gonna be honest. And the reason why I say that is I think with any fast moving profession there's a lot to be defined and there's a lot that can also kind of be a little bit murky and go wrong. So I think we're kind of in the stage right now where in the industry we're trying to define what design ops means and trying to help bring a new era of design ops practitioners into the design community.

Eli Woolery (04:19):

Me. What do you think are some of the factors that caused this relatively rapid change in the state of design ops over the

Meredith Black (04:25):

Past few years? Right. Well so we'll take a step back for those who who listen to the first episode. At the time I was head of design operations at Pinterest and about three years ago I left Pinterest right before we IPOed and we moved down a few hours south of San Francisco. And for me it was kind of terrifying because I said, okay, I'm leaving Pinterest, I'm leaving this amazing design operations job for you know, other reasons and I didn't know if I was gonna be able to find a job to be quite honest. I said, am I leaving this profession for good? You know, is consulting gonna be okay? Like are are company's gonna want me remote? And the pandemic happened and silver lining as horrible as this whole situation has been globally, I think design teams realized pretty quickly, how are we gonna run teams if we're all remote?


And I think design leaders relatively quickly realized they couldn't do it without the support of people helping them with running teams remote, getting people on calls, running critiques, remote tools, onboarding, all of this stuff that was happening was happening real time for everyone, not only in the world and every different company but within design teams and you know, how do you keep a design team running? How do you keep 'em going? How do you keep the culture going? Right? And so I think a lot of leaders found out really quickly, we need this role now more than ever. And as a result, things have picked up pretty quickly, which is really exciting. And I mean we're seeing design companies all over the world and in all different industries leveraging design ops. It's not just these tech companies anymore. It has grown into this actual like burgeoning industry that we wouldn't have seen a few years ago that we didn't see a few years ago. So it's really exciting to be a part of this.

Eli Woolery (06:16):

Meredith. So you made a big change in your life after leaving Pinterest and moved down actually to my neighborhood. And sadly we haven't had a chance to meet up in person even though we live only a couple miles together cuz the pandemic came down around the same time that you moved here. But we're changing that we're gonna meet up in a couple weeks. But tell us a little bit about just some kind of personal context. And I heard that maybe goats were involved,

Meredith Black (06:36):

Goats aren't involved yet, however. Yeah, so basically, you know, living in San Francisco for 17 years working at tech companies, my husband and I just wanted a different change of pace to be honest. And I think a lot of us, you know, going through the pandemic now have thought about this to a large extent. And so I think maybe we were slightly ahead of the game. And so part of the reason, you know, we moved down here as my husband's family is in Carmel Valley and we just wanted to be closer to them and be closer to family and kind of soak up a different environment and not kind of be in the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and you know, walking to work and having bus lines drive by your house and paramedics and fire trucks running all over the place all the time.


Like we just, we wanted a different pace. So we moved down here and this was probably the largest adjustment I've ever had in my life going from being next to coffee shops and being surrounded by hundreds of people a day and a Pinterest and other companies. And part of that was terrifying because I didn't know what I was gonna do career-wise, right? I didn't know if design ops was still gonna be a thing. I didn't know if it was just gonna be a thing at Pinterest and a few tech companies or if it was gonna take off. So it's been quite the journey. And for good or bad, I've been quite busy <laugh>, which has been really fun and I've been able to grow the design operations community I think as a whole, which has been really exciting and help grow this practice. So that's what I'm doing down here now.

Aarron Walter (08:09):

It is amazing that there's so many people working in the design op space that there can be a community. One thing that I wanted to add to what you laid out of what's changed since 2018 is design teams have grown, design teams are much bigger than they once were. You know, it used to be that when Eli and I started to investigate design teams and, and how they worked that you know, like a 25 to 50 person design team was big and now they're, you know, commonly north of a hundred people and that requires a lot of coordination and design ops. And when we spoke to you back then, I remember you were just kind of thinking like we could bring the few design ops people together. You had gone through LinkedIn and found everyone with that title and it was literally like a handful of people, you know, like maybe five people that you could count. Now you've created a community called design ops Assembly. How many members are in the design ops assembly?

Meredith Black (09:11):

We have close to 4,500 members on a Slack channel. And it's crazy, you're right, when we first started talking, it was Elise Hornbacher and I and a handful of other people in the industry and we would force each other to get together and say, what does design ops mean in your organization? What are you doing? How can I help you? How can you help me? How can we not recreate the wheel? And slowly but surely more people were able to hire on those teams, which was great. And then slowly but surely after that our meetups started getting bigger and bigger and bigger and it came to the point where we were hosting events of well over a hundred people and you know, office spaces all over San Francisco. We'd have panel events, we would have, you know, experts in the industry. We had design leaders come in, we'd have a job board where there'd actually be hiring managers there who could talk to people who were interested in design ops.


And we thought we were pretty cool having a hundred people at these events and c o happened and you know, we had planned out at least two years worth of events and obviously that switched and we made the decision, we were like, okay, well let's just try this online, let's see how the community reacts. And so we had a Slack channel and for full transparency, the only reason we even had that Slack channel is so I had email addresses of people so I could send invites to them for in-person events. And I can't believe to say that fast forward, you know, now in 2022 we have almost 4,500 people on the Slack channel and not only is it a Slack channel, but we have over 15 chapters worldwide with people running those chapters for events. We have channels talking about tooling, organization, learning and development, career frameworks, org design, I mean everything you could imagine.


And as the community keeps building, it's given us the opportunity to keep building the content and keep building this practice of design operations. And so we've come a long way, which is, it's pretty crazy. And I think the coolest thing about the design ops assembly Slack channel and these events is it's not just people who are in design ops, it's people who are in design leadership and it's people who are really curious about design operations and how they can bring it into their organization and have all of this information in one place that's a very like non judgey, very nice well mannered group of people who just wanna help other people out, right? Like design operations people help other people for a living. And so you have this whole Slack channel where you can get on and be like, Hey, does anybody have like a career framework for this? Or what do job levels look like at your company? Or like super interesting question but like where do job bands fit in and like how do we define them? All of this stuff is being answered on a daily basis now, whereas before we just didn't have this type of forum. And so it's pretty exciting to see where it's going.

Eli Woolery (12:14):

Meredith, people who listen to our first episode with you probably understand design ops or if not from other venues, but why don't we just dive into the kind of scope of design ops and the typical roles and activities just in case folks listening might not be familiar.

Meredith Black (12:28):

Yeah, absolutely. And just to call this out, I think it's changing every day. So keep that in mind. When I first started design operations was kind of everything in the kitchen sink. It was everything that designers didn't have to do other than letting them design, right? And so it was setting up a rhythm of business, setting up a cadence of meetings, making sure that you know, projects were running smoothly, making sure that there were the right resources on the right projects, you know, ensuring that product managers were getting the resources that they needed from the design team, having cross-functional conversations and just setting the design team up and protecting them, you know, from the rest of the organization, right? Making sure that they had the time to design. They weren't always in meetings, they weren't constantly in Google Docs, constantly having people over their shoulder quote unquote saying Hey, can you just fix this real quick?


Right? So design ops was kind of this protector of the designer. Fast forward to now, I think there are different flavors of design ops and it really depends on what size your organization is and what size your design team is, right? And like I said before, there are organizations where like Salesforce who have a ton of designers and they've got a really large design ops team, Facebook has over 200 design program managers and they've got thousands of designers, whereas they didn't have that five or six years ago. And so there are different companies doing different things and design ops means different things. And so design ops can mean design program management. How are you defining programs that can help your design team? Is that learning and development, is that somebody solely focused on headcount and the budget for the team is that somebody who's focused on running great design critiques and you know, running day to day process of projects? And so it really runs the gamut, but I see this role as essentially the right hand human being to whoever the head of design is and whoever the leadership of design is to allow that head of design or leader to be responsible for what good design looks like within the organization and lead the team and inspire the team and let the ops person, you know, kind of take care of the rest and help with the day-to-day minutia.

Eli Woolery (14:49):

We've seen a number of

Aarron Walter (14:50):

People transition into design ops from other roles. I didn't see the transition coming, but once they had flipped over I realized, wow, they're quite good at this. Those skills that they had over here that were maybe misplaced were perfect over there. In design ops, what are the typical skills or talents that someone brings to the table when they start to transition into a design ops role?

Meredith Black (15:14):

Amazing question, and this has shifted a lot in the last year. 60% of the people that we've surveyed about this, 60% of the people who are in design ops came from a design role. They were actually designers before they were design operations people. I would say prior to that, the demographic of a person who was in design ops came from the agency background, you know, was a producer, account director, account executive, used to managing different clients, different accounts and stuff like that. And I think that's kind of like the original group of people that moved into design ops because they knew how to work with product managers and engineers. They treated 'em like clients, right? Like they knew how to push back, they knew how to delicately say no, let me check in for that for you, all of this stuff. But what's really interesting is that I've seen this trend and I can't tell you how many times I've heard the same story of a designer saying, you know what, I've been doing design ops my entire career, I just didn't know there was a title for it.


And it's really interesting to see the switch. And I think what makes designers so successful in this role is that they truly understand not only design, but they are the mind of a designer, right? And so they understand how process works, how designers think the time that it takes to start from you know, discovery to sketching to a final product. Whereas I think other people have to learn that real time, right? They have to be like, how long do you think this will take? Whereas designers, it's just innately in them, Nope, this is gonna take time. Nope, these are the questions that I'm gonna ask. There's like a natural discovery phase and like every single project cuz they're used to doing discovery. And so I think this high sense of EQ and deep understanding of design is only gonna make design operations better because it's coming from people who truly understand the craft.


And it's really fun to see because I couldn't say five or six years ago, anybody in design would be like, I want to do operations, I want to be in spreadsheets and job descriptions all day and like all of these different tools and you know, like I couldn't have predicted this. And so the fact that we're transitioning into this kind of new era of design ops is really interesting. I also think statistically speaking, the majority of people who are moving into design ops have at least 10 to 15 years of experience, career level experience. So we are also identifying out of the gate right now that what companies and organizations need is somebody who does have that business acumen, those cross-functional skills, the high eq, right? That need to be learned over time. And so I think as an industry in design up, we can do better, right? We can start identifying, okay, we've got this senior level of talent, how do we get the next generation in and how do we train them and how do we build up this crew? So this can be a profession that continues to keep going.

Eli Woolery (18:20):

So speaking of training, you yourself have created something that is attempting to address that through the design ops assembly. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Meredith Black (18:29):

Yeah, so it was honestly based off of a need of, there's no training for design operations and there's so many people that are like, I wanna get into it or I've been into it for a little while, but I just don't know how to progress my career or how to become a manager. And so we created Learning Labs, which is basically a 12 week cohort with a professor at the top of their field in the industry. And so we have different levels, we have, you know, fundamentals of design operations. So if you are new to design ops or if you're a leader that's new to bringing design ops into your team, you can be part of that cohort. We have emerging leaders where people who are just starting to manage other design operations folks can come in and learn like what management looks like, what career paths look like, you know, how are you gonna grow people's careers within design operations.


And then we've got established leaders, which is another cohort where it's people who've been in this industry for a long time, you know, the people who did traditionally start from the agencies or who have been doing design ops for a long time. And that's just a cohort of people to figure out kind of what the next iteration of design ops looks like. How do you communicate what design ops is at the executive level and how to get more exposure to design ops and how to get design ops to be considered more of an executive level position. And what I mean by that is we have a ton of women who are in design operations right now. I think we have like maybe 53, 50 4% identify as women who are in design operations. But where things really start to fall off is at the VP level.


You've got a lot of women at the director level, but it drops pretty significantly at the VP level. There's a couple reasons why for that. One is there's not that many VP of design ops roles out there. I can literally count them on one hand, right? But in those roles the majority are men, right? And so how does this next level of leaders advocate that this is a role that should be at the executive level and how do we get more women into it? So lots of conversations happening around that. But yeah, learning Labs has been really successful. We're in our third round right now. People are excited. People not only love the community aspect of it, but really love to learn and get into the practical details about how they can do their jobs better on a day to day basis since they can't really get that type of education at work yet. So that's where we're at.

Aarron Walter (20:58):

Can people sign up for that

Meredith Black (21:00):

Still? Yeah, I mean fall season's booked but we're gonna have a new one in the spring. So yeah, if anyone wants to sign up they can just go to the website and we have a whole application process. We also are very cognizant that, you know, not everybody can afford education like this or a lot of companies don't have the budgets for some of this and especially, you know, in our economic climate right now things are a little hairy. So we've you know, been partnering with some amazing companies who've been offering scholarships so that way we can get folks who are unemployed or who are right out of college into these programs and get them the education they need to be successful.

Eli Woolery (21:39):

Hey everybody, we hope you're learning about the current state of design ops and how it facilitates cross-disciplinary collaboration. From our guest Meredith Black, we wanna take a minute to talk about how Envision can help inspire more inclusive collaboration across your teams. Envision's collaborative canvas Freehand makes everything from wire framing, brainstorming, retrospectives, and even getting feedback for the next episode of this podcast. Easier, impactful and exciting with hundreds of templates built for and by your peers as well as smart widgets and integrations with the tools you rely on and vision helps you make your workspace work better for you. And with spaces you can bring all your team's workflows together in one place, create a simple, safe, single source of truth for your team by placing envision documents, external files and useful links inside your spaces. No more wasted time, lost files or crossed wires. So if your company is looking for a single place to come together, get organized, co-create and push work forward, check out Thanks so much for listening and now let's get back to the show.

Aarron Walter (22:51):

So there's another thing that you've been doing in addition to training with design ops assembly and that is a big report that's forthcoming at the time of recording right here that you're, you're working on, you're very excited about. What is this report and what did you learn in that process about design ops?

Meredith Black (23:08):

So it's called the state of Design ops report. Pretty easy to remember. And basically what we are doing is we're, we're partnering with a gentleman, angel Arnis who runs a community over in Finland called Joint Futures. And we were just really curious as to how do we find out who's really doing this in the industry, what they're doing, what salaries look like, what level of education do they have, what size teams do these companies have? All of the above. And so we are working on a report that will be released before this comes out, but what's really interesting is to see these patterns that are starting to come up with the data. And granted, you know, we only had 450 people actually take the survey for us to do this report and that was globally. So this isn't just West Coast centric or East Coast centric in the United States.


This isn't just tech-centric, this is people who are doing design ops all over the world and in very different industries. And I think some of the things that are really interesting is that hybrid working is becoming the norm. I know that there's a lot of press out there right now about trying to move the design teams, you know, back into the office space, but I think that hybrid is here to stay and I think that there are a lot of people within design operations who have figured out a way to make this work and make it sustainable in terms of setting up meetings, not having zoom fatigue, how to work asynchronously, whereas that was kind of not okay before, right? Like everybody wanted to be in the same room and and do brainstorms and I think people are now moving to the ICU quarterly, our next event is gonna be an onsite where we all get together and have a workshop versus having to see each other day to day.


So I think that's a really interesting stat. I also think what's interesting is that the average time to stand up a design team right now or design operations team is about one to two years in terms of getting advocacy, getting headcount, and then getting a person in larger companies such as, you know, I I've mentioned Salesforce and Facebook and and Google, they obviously have larger design operations teams because they are larger scales of design teams. But there are still a ton of practitioners out there who are teams of one at a lot of smaller companies. I would say about 28 to 30% of the people who are running design ops are doing it as a team of one right now. Some other interesting things is that the frustrations with design operations are kind of the exact same frustrations that designers have, which is org structure and bureaucracy still gonna be a problem design not being utilized at the strategic level.


Design ops is still pretty frustrated about that and then partners not understanding design and design operations. And so I think that data right there shows us that okay, we've identified it, this isn't anything new, how are we gonna move forward and how are we gonna give clarity and how are we gonna continue to advocate for design ops and design within these organizations? And what you said earlier about, you know, design ops getting bigger than they used to be, I think that's true and I think that there are a lot of design leaders who are going to continue growing these teams within these organizations, but they've also heard from everyone else that design ops is like a must have. And so it's kind of like, oh well maybe I should try this. And so I think there's a lot more willingness to bring design operations in, especially when design leaders know that it's gonna help them, not hinder them.


Those are some of the things that we're seeing. Again, the majority of the people in the practice practice are women, which I think is really in interesting and I think the majority of the people in this role have a bachelor's degree or higher. And so between, you know, the women higher education and then years of experience being 10 to 14 years in the industry before they get into this is data we didn't have a year ago or two years ago. So it'll be interesting to see what happens in the future and and to see how much further we can grow this when the report becomes consistent over the years.

Aarron Walter (27:09):

Do you have any theories as to why the role is so gendered?

Meredith Black (27:12):

I think there's a couple aspects to this is design ops people are very focused on kind of the quality of the experience for the designer and the design team. For me, like I'm very much a nurturer, right? And so like I wanna make sure like everybody's doing their best work, I wanna make sure that everybody feels like they're motivated, that you know, everybody's birthdays are recognized and anniversaries at their company are recognized. And I think there's something about that that's there. I also think women are incredibly talented at multitasking. This is a role where there is a lot of moving pieces and moving parts all of the time and you know, like I'm personally not a mother of children but like you know, if you're a mom, you've got kids and you are wrangling 50 things, you get it done, right? And so I think this is the same mentality that comes into this is you just get things done.


I also think that there's an art into conversation and EQ and and how you know, things are discussed and how things are articulated, but I just think it's a strong business acumen that women have that are really successful in this role and it is a role that is not a passive at all. It's a very active in your face, opinionated, you know, driving success kind of role. And so I think it's amazing because we're seeing so many successful smart women who are driving these design orgs in a way that they haven't been driven before and they're putting a different lens on it that wasn't there before.

Aarron Walter (28:45):

It's just a highly influential role where sign ops often is like playing a significant role in key decisions or like who comes into the organization, how that works.

Meredith Black (28:58):

Yeah, and, and I mean at the end of the day, like you're kind of the puppet master a little bit, like nobody really knows what you do but you're kind of moving all the pieces around in the background and people in this role don't get enough credit for what they do, but they're also the type of person that doesn't actually need that credit and validation. They're very like service centered, service forward individuals. And so I think, you know, this can be a very thankless job sometimes or you know, ill defined, I have a notebook on my desk that literally says, wait, what's my job on the front of it? That kind of describes this role in a nutshell. And you know, I've also got a sweatshirt that we just designed called Chief of Feelings, right? Because I think at the end of the day that's what the design ops person is, we're the chief of feelings, we don't know what our job is, but we do whatever we need to do to get it done.

Eli Woolery (29:51):

There's sort of a counterpart on the engineering team and DevOps roles. Is there any kind of overlap between what they do and what a design ops person does or is it kind of no real relationship?

Meredith Black (30:01):

I mean I think it depends on the organization that you're in. Mike, they were called like tech program managers and some of the larger companies and I think design ops is focused mostly on the operations of design, the program management of design, what good design looks like. Whereas I think tpms and technical program managers are more focused on how things are gonna get implemented and how they're going to get out into the real world, technically speaking, right? And so I think that there are at times can be lots of conversations between like what do I dream up and what do I want to happen in my head versus what is reality? But I think they're kind of like too parallel paths of work that kind of happen at the same time but should be in conversation with each other. There's also a new role that's coming out that's called product ops, which is essentially the same thing but in the product organization everybody wants an ops role right now. Like we've got finance ops, we've got marketing ops, like everybody's like so excited about ops roles, which is fantastic. However, my biggest fear is if we don't clearly define these roles, there's gonna be a lot of overlap and there's gonna be less validation for the role. And so like how do we make things crystal clear? How do we define what these things are? How do we focus less on titles and more on impact and how we're gonna make an impact within not only the design team, the product team, but the company as a whole.

Aarron Walter (31:24):

Meredith, I wanted to just return to, you know, kind of the personal side of of how you ended up here leaving San Francisco, leaving Pinterest. That was probably a big personal transition for you and now you're in a really unique place for your consulting. You're running a community, you're connected with a lot of people, you're working with a lot of different organizations as well. And I'm just curious, like for you personally, this shift in your career, your shift in your location, it's really like redesigning your life. How has that changed you?

Meredith Black (31:59):

Like I said before, I think when I left Pinterest I was terrified I was gonna have to restart my career all over again. You know, I mean full disclosure at one point I was like, hey, maybe being a 9 1 1 dispatcher would be cool. I had no idea. I thought I was going to have to like redefine my life. And I was like, what is going to inspire me? I am in a completely different community. You know, I think what's really interesting is I think that being a design minded human being, you're kind of always thinking about how to optimize things or like what's gonna make you happy. And I think for me it was I love community, right? Like I love connecting with people and I love helping other people out. Helping somebody find a job is like the biggest joy for me. Like I love being able to be like I helped get you on a career trajectory that like maybe I couldn't have gotten when I was in that phase in my career.


And so building the design op assembly community has obviously been a huge labor of love and I'm so excited to do it. But like also I think being able to consult and being able to talk to so many design leaders versus just the few I was interacting with on a yearly basis, I would say like you know, Pinterest and Facebook and all these other places, it's been really cool to see what's happening in the industry just in design as a whole. What the market looks like, what people are passionate about, how teams are running, how teams are structured. I have the opportunity to have these conversations with design leaders from all over the world that I wasn't having before. And now I get to have these conversations and share with them my experience from working with all sorts of different companies right now, right? And so I can bring the, hey, you know what, I just worked with the design org that was very similar to this.


This is what worked, this is what didn't, we're gonna make sure that we don't make the same mistakes here, right? Or this worked amazingly, we should implement this here. And so it's been really, really fun and I've been incredibly rewarding to be able to have the opportunity to do this and to be able to try to make an impact on many design teams versus just one. And so that's what keeps me going every day, right? That and the community. And also being able to go on three mile runs every morning with my German Shepherd and smell like country air versus like I said before, like hearing sirens. I mean when a siren comes around here everyone's like, oh god, like who died? Or where's the fire, right? I mean that is a very different response than you have in San Francisco and I think you just look at life a little bit differently.


Being in San Francisco for 17 years was an amazing experience, but being down here and being probably one of the youngest people in a like very sleepy retirement community is interesting. Life's a little different. It's very quiet, it's very clean. You know, the people are different. Like people don't care that you're in tech or you're not down here. People are more like, oh, where do you live? Like who was your grandpa? Like did they live down here? Like, oh, have you been to this new restaurant? Or like, it's just such a different world than I think the world that I've been used to living in. Which is like, oh hi, my name's Meredith. This is what I do, this is what company and I work with, this is what neighborhood I live in. Like I've talked to people here for years that I see every day that have absolutely no idea what I do as a profession and I don't even care about telling them. It's been a very humbling adjustment, but I'm glad I did it and, and I think it's made me a better person and a better leader to be honest. And it just made me put things into perspective a lot more.

Eli Woolery (35:46):

Well we're so glad to have you down here, Meredith. And I won't ask you about your job when I see you cuz I already know all about it, the podcast. But I do wanna talk about careers a bit cuz we're gonna be lucky enough to have you in a webinar in October, which should be happening after this airs. And you can go to envision to sign up for that or the recording if you miss it. And I'm curious on that topic, what are the kind of changes you've seen to the career trajectory of designers over the past few years? It doesn't have to be just design ops gonna be other roles too.

Meredith Black (36:17):

Yeah, I mean, again, like I said before, I'm seeing this wild transition from designers moving into design ops, which I think, you know, selfishly is very cool. I like that. I also see that a lot of designers are starting to reevaluate where they work and why they work. And that can be a controversial statement, but maybe that's what a pandemic does to a person is I think more people are wanting more work life balance, are wanting to work on meaningful products that they feel good about and are, you know, sometimes willing to take a pay cut for that, right? I think there is a time where everybody wanted to be at the hottest company there was. And I think now people are really readjusting their, their mindset of what good looks like and what happy looks like and what good design looks like. And it's really fun to see.


And as a result you see a lot more people shifting into the worlds of, you know, nonprofit or finance or you know, some of these fields that I would say were deemed maybe like not sexy for a designer a few years ago are like incredibly rewarding and inspiring now. And so I think the world is gonna be a much better place because designers are thinking about problems that we deal with on a daily basis, more and more than just the large corporate and social media companies of the world that I think we all were once very attracted to.

Aarron Walter (37:49):

This is something you've been digging into pretty deeply. Listeners may not know this, but you and I, we co-host a podcast on this topic with our friend Bob Baxley, who has also been on design better. We host a show called Reconsidering.

Meredith Black (38:05):

Yeah, yeah, we do. And it's literally how to make a life while also making a living and, but you know, like what life throws at us, right? And so I think it's been really fun. You know, Eli, to answer your question, and we've been talking to not only design leaders, but New York Times bestselling authors about what does life look like and how can we be better humans, right? And I think we're all just in this period of reevaluation right now, and I think that's okay. And I think it's kind of this aha moment. And Erin obviously, you know, we have the best time doing this podcast and it's just like that fun big, nerdy book club for us because we get to read all of these amazing books and talk to all of these super smart people and we're like, wait a minute. It's just giving, I think me a much different perspective into not only the world of design and what I've been doing, but also just how other people think, right? And the stages of what you go through, right? And, and live. Like, you know, we're talking to MIT philosophy professors about what it's like to go through, you know, like a midlife crisis, right? Like that's not a conversation you're gonna have around the water cooler every day. And so the more we can elevate these conversations about just being human, I think the better we're gonna be at our work in general, no matter what that is or what we do.

Eli Woolery (39:25):

I've really been enjoying the show, so we don't usually plug too many other podcasts on here or other things, but where can we, where can folks listen to reconsidering

Meredith Black (39:32):

<laugh>? You can go to for the podcast. We just launched season three. We've got some pretty inspiring designers coming up soon and among with a myriad of other amazing guests, we're gonna be talking about all sorts of things from regret to friendship to AI to games, like it's a swath of information. And then if anybody's interested in joining Design Ops Assembly, you can go to the website, design ops and you can join the Slack channel. And there's a ton of events that you can get involved with or be locally online and be a part of the conversation.

Eli Woolery (40:10):

And the report will be there as well.

Meredith Black (40:12):

Yeah, the report will be there the end of September. We've got over a thousand people joining us for the talk next week, so it's gonna be interesting. It's gonna be interesting to see the response and what people are thinking. So yeah, feel free to go grab the report as well.

Eli Woolery (40:28):

Thanks so much, Meredith. One more <laugh>. Hopefully people aren't fatigued yet, but one other thing that should check out is her design ops book and on design Better Library, Meredith Black. So wonderful to have you back here and I look forward to seeing you in person.

Meredith Black (40:41):

Yeah, I can't wait to, thanks everybody.

Speaker 2 (40:47):

This episode was produced by Eli Willie and Aaron Walter with engineering and production support from Brian PA of Pacific Audio and brought to you by Envision. If you found this episode useful, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, or simply drop a link to the show into your team Slack channel. It'll help others discover the show need tools to raise your teams collaborative intelligence. Visit envision or you'll find a single place to come together, get organized, co-create, and push work forward. And visit inside and design where you'll find our library of free eBooks, audiobooks, videos, and articles about foundational concepts of design and business. Until next time,

Design Better
Design Better
Design Better co-hosts Eli Woolery and Aarron Walter explore the intersection of design, technology, and the creative process through conversations with inspiring guests across many creative fields. Whether you’re design curious or a design pro, Design Better is guaranteed to inspire and inform. Episodes are released semi-weekly for free subscribers, weekly for premium subscribers. Vanity Fair calls Design Better, “sharp, to the point, and full of incredibly valuable information for anyone looking to better understand how to build a more innovative world.”