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Sympli pushes DesignOps model for more team collaboration

Designers now can collaborate on and check in design files with software that helps to smooth the designer-developer handoff.

Version control and DevOps tools already help software developers more efficiently deliver software, but designers have been left out in the cold.

A startup in Washington, D.C., that focuses on digital product development hopes to bring them into the fold with a so-called DesignOps tool that the company positions as a GitHub for design files.

The company, called Sympli, has released Versions, a Git-based tool that automates collaboration, communication and handoff between designers, developers and digital product teams. The DesignOps product helps designers manage their design processes, as well as versions of design files and Xcode; track changes; and better collaborate with team members. Versions works with products and technologies such as Sketch, Adobe XD, Adobe Photoshop and Android Studio.

Design has become a larger part of the digital product-building experience, said Tim Keough, CEO of Sympli. That means designers are just as busy as developers, and they must iterate quickly with multiple people on teams working on design files.

Voke analyst Theresa LanowitzTheresa Lanowitz

Designers often try to orchestrate this process with email messages or design files saved in Dropbox or a local file server, but that is not scalable. Without a central repository, members of the team don't know what the others are doing and might duplicate efforts. Design catches up with the development world in its need for such tools.

App design is now so crucial that the designer must be part of the software engineering team, alongside developers, product managers and quality-assurance staff, said Theresa Lanowitz, an analyst at Voke in Minden, Nev.

"The more we rely on mobile apps, the more straightforward and elegant the design must be -- and the designer cannot be a drag on speed or quality of experience," Lanowitz said.

Designers are every bit as critical to the success of an app as the developer.
Theresa Lanowitzanalyst, Voke

Sympli's first product was a designer and developer handoff automation tool that takes design files, extracts the relevant information related to developers and passes it to the development team.

"From that initial product, we saw the need for a real version-control system that uses Git-type concepts that are used in development with ability to check in changes, etc.," Keough said. "We wanted to help teams to design at scale."

Versions helps designers mock up and run design experiments or design new product features, with no impact to other files, and it resolves conflicts and merges changes automatically through a visual interface. Users can browse and review change sets, as well as view and compare design versions, via the web or desktop apps and through direct integration with project management tools. It also helps users choose between public cloud, private cloud and on-premises setups, depending on the user company's preferences.

The time is now to embrace DesignOps

Sympli might struggle to find its audience, because developers do not want any clutter on their workbench, and designers might not see this as aimed at them, Lanowitz said.

Lanowitz said she believes designers should be included in the software lifecycle.

"Designers are every bit as critical to the success of an app as the developer," she said. "And designers must be included from the beginning of a software project, not brought in at the end."

Microsoft started down this path several years ago with its Microsoft Expression Studio. At that time, it was a stretch to expect developers to focus on design along with development activities, but now the time is right for a DesignOps model, Lanowitz said.

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