UX Advantage 2015: Building a Design Culture within IBM

Adam Culter, Design Team Program Director, IBM

– 15 years at IBM, first 12 years did consulting as a designer
– long design legacy; original intent to humanize technology; in the 80s and 90s, IBM lost its way with focus on finance; 2 1/2 years now refocusing on design
– new design studio in Austin; “Empathy not Ego”; move company to put primary focus on the user instead of the buyer (not to forget the buyer of course); can our systems make part of your day better, can’t control everything the users interact with (https://www.ibm.com/design/studio.shtml)
– goal: 1200 designs by end of 2016; almost there now; design studios around the world; reached out to everyone in the company who called themselves designer and evaluate if they are
– hiring process at that scale: in 2 weeks, have 75 designers starting on the same day; just completing onboarding of 68 designers; 10,000 applications in pipeline, 7,000 portfolio reviews, 5,000 phone screens, 750 fly downs with collaborate work exercises, 450 hires; robust talent and recruiting department; 2/3 of hires are right out of school; send them back to their schools to do recruiting
– how to integrate to product teams: design boot camp program – 3 month cohort in Austin; work with one another in their own space; 6 weeks of company basics, principles of inclusive design (accessibility, front end dev, microprojects); next 6 weeks are real projects from the business units that they’ll be working in – lots of domain knowledge delivered; professional hires have 3 day design camp and then placed on team; work with receiving team to continue onboarding about specific product domains
– his team is 15-20 people responsible for public face of IBM design; everyone else is in the business units; provide support to design executives who manage design leads
– design camp: Bluemix came out of a camp; instead of monolithic system, pick and choose off the shelf components and link them (https://console.ng.bluemix.net)
– 50,000 sq ft on 2 floors; 300+ designers located there; all furniture on wheels or easily moved by small people; totally reconfigurable; hanging whiteboard idea from Stanford Design school; entire 7th floor based on custom designed Steelcase components; non-precious space; it’s about people doing work and getting hands dirty; personal whiteboards that can be put on hooks in a hanging wall; hand carts full of them, take back to your workspace; people work differently when standing up and working next to each other; can take them down, stack them, label them; quick tear down and re-set up; “collective brainpower being spewed out onto the walls”, spacial memory
– structure, position levels, career paths: personal business commitments (PBCs) to IBM; IBM Design sets those PBCs for all designers in the company; HR system has official job titles at all levels and career paths, all the way to IBM Design Fellow; designer job codes and pay equity across functions like engineering; Adam’s title originally had “IT Specialist” job title, took 10 years to even change it to “consultant”
– executive buy in for this: Adam’s boss GM of Design (Phil Gilbert) was chatting with his manager, and joked that he would” redesign every last piece of software IBM makes”; executive commitment and support to doing this
– how are the distributed designers supported by central design team and a community of other designers; most of the designers are physically placed in design studios, regardless of which business they work with; some engineers weren’t sure what to do with these designers; the teams they work with are all over the world; 388,000 IBM employees in 171 countries; cloud-based sticky note tool (https://mural.ly) and slack; one team put an iPad on a pole running facetime all the time when a designer moved away so she could virtually sit with them; other teams have adopted; iPads get dressed up and you can recognize them individually; designers get to visit other studios at times
– measuring design contribution in performance evaluation: need to let go of ownership of design; code is just as important; can’t split apart designers work in one media with a developers work in code; can’t say what part of success was contributed by design; more about did they work well together as a team
– how has new design initiative affected IBM’s long-term, strong culture: train new designers how to behave as a good team member, how to communicate, integrate, and gel; get the efforts aligned across functional roles; “designers are the worst at using our own tools for our own work”, eg empath for engineers; early on, very high touch from central design team; now have to do it at scale and propagating those abilities and principles to all the designers
– influence direction of the company: developed IBM design thinking; design thinking founders “we blew it when we called it design thinking”; added 3 governing concepts on top of the standard design thinking; 1) customer sponsor, 2) playback (frequent, 10 minute, high frame rate, communication of recent design work) everyone invited and execs often attend, 3) “hills” – (commander’s intent, take the hill) 3 and only 3 articulations of what’s going to be delivered in a release, always user focused
– public version of IBM’s version of design thinking will be available soon
– takeaways: the space that you sit in is what you make it (provide what they need to feel that they have what they need); let go of design ownership and share it with everyone, artifacts and tools are not sacred – no holy wars – plan for the outcomes; when you come up with something that advances the state of design share it freely

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