Design Thinking for Services - Part 1

About 6 months ago I took a job at IBM. I was hired as a visual designer. That particular title is a little ambiguous in terms of what it is that I do here. In the traditional sense—say in the digital product world—I would be designing user interfaces and helping define the user experience. However, my role as a visual designer at IBM entails more consideration. I work on the IBM Design for Client Services team within IBM Design. To give you a little context, let me explain a bit about IBM Design and its purpose as an entity within the larger organization.

IBM Design was created, in part, to help better develop products that IBM would eventually sell to clients. Traditionally, the way product development has been approached at IBM is with a feature-first mentality that tended to bloat products with useless and unintuitive components that their users didn't need or want. Products have been developed, sold, and failed resulting in millions of wasted dollars and lost time. To solve this problem, Phil Gilbert implemented design thinking into the process. If you don't know what design thinking is just run a Google search and you can get a bit of info. To quickly summarize, it is a framework for solving business problems from a user-first perspective. It was created to find a solution based around empathy for the direct user of a product/service, and then quickly prototype ideas taking into account user research and feedback to make adjustments on the fly. It saves time and money in the long run because it delivers solutions that actually make sense for whomever is directly using the product/service. The problem is that it works really well for small tech startups because they are able to adjust and adapt quickly, but mainstream design thinking does not work well within an organization that includes 400k+ employees—like IBM for example.

That's why IBM needed to manipulate the core ideas that drive design thinking and create its own version to make it adaptable to the enterprise business level. So, when someone tells you about IBM Design Thinking, it is actually unique in approach. I don't want to talk about specifics in this post, and if you want to learn more just go to This approach has been central to pushing IBM forward into the future. Over the last three years, IBM has hired hundreds of designers specializing in visual, user experience, user research, and front-end development. They collaborate on multi-disciplinary teams along with product offering managers and other business groups to humanize the product experience IBM is delivering and make it better.

That's a bit of background. Now, back to my role. A little over a year ago, with the success IBM was starting to see with its products as a result of the aforementioned shift, IBM thought it relevant to see if the same approach could be applied to client services—things like sales and client engagements, consulting services, talent engagement, human resources, etc. Could we use IBM Design Thinking to make the experiences associated with those services better? Hence, the formation of the first team within IBM Design that was not solely dedicated to creating product-centric solutions—the IBM Design for Client Services team—of which I am a part.

I help craft better user experiences in client engagements. Most of the legwork is done through design thinking workshops where I try to help advocate for the user in a service. You might ask yourself, what does that mean? Experiences are all around us. When we wake up in the morning to our phone's alarm, or stand in line at the grocery store we are users in those experiences. Designing a better system for shepherding customers through a checkout line has just as much to do with design as creating an elegantly beautiful app. Each experience has a user, and my job is to find out who they are and what they need and want. I do that for IBM's consulting wing.

What is design?

Ever since I graduated college I've been of the mind that design is much more than just the visual and aesthetic quality of objects and places. It spans all different aspects of life and, in a sense, defines who we are as individuals.

When I was growing up, I loved running. My friends and family would often ask me why I liked it so much. The typical response I gave was that running was a lifestyle, not a sport. Don't get me wrong, I loved the sport from a competitive standpoint, but it was much more than that. The feeling of being outside—being able to let my mind wander and get away from the daily tasks of school and work—that was why I ran. It became part of who I was.

In much the same way, design permeates our lives in many more ways than most of us realize. There are a lot of sub-divisions within the design community; architecture, industrial, branding, UX, UI, packaging, and visual design, just to name a few. While each has their own eccentricities and unique challenges, at the very core, design in any discipline is about creating an experience.

For example, a branding specialist will most certainly create a strong visual language from color, photography, typography, logos, etc. And while that is a very important aspect of branding, I have never subscribed to the notion that branding only involves the visual alone. It has as much to do with a company's logo as it does with the customer service and feelings the consumer receives when interacting with any given touchpoint of a brand, from the sales reps to the website.

The same goes for any one of the individual sub divisions within the design community. An architect would never design a home with the soul purpose of making it visually beautiful. Neither would a web designer create a website that only looks unique. To do so would be serving half the purpose of design. The architect will always keep in mind the usefulness of his design and how it relates to the person living within the walls of his creation. And the web designer should always keep in the back of his mind how the end user will interact with the buttons, navigation, and content of the site. To do so any other way, is missing the real usefulness and purpose of design.

Drawing this back to my analogy of running. Design has much more purpose and tact than just competing for the next customer (although that is definitely one of the main goals), but should define the lifestyle and experience surrounding whoever or whatever is the end user. That definition sounds a lot like what some people have said to me is the role of a user experience designer. But I believe that experience is something all designers should be aware of, and well-rounded designers will always have in mind when creating anything. I subscribe to the philosophy that form always follows function.

My point is that whether I'm a branding specialist, user experience designer, or any other role; my execution should always have a purpose. And that purpose should always be rooted in the experience of the end user.

Jersey Update

Life has been busy over the last few weeks. Between freelance, family trips, etc. I haven't had a lot of time to devote to designing more kits. Luckily, I've had enough time in the last week to finish designing Utah. I know a lot of people might have expected red rock inspiration, and I did debate that particular color scheme initially. However, I ended up using other sources of inspiration for the design. Utah is the "Beehive State" and the motto is "Industry". The monogram was designed to reflect the angular nature of most of the rock formations in Utah, especially sedimentary rocks which are prevalent in Southern Utah.  The same inspiration was used for the contrasting lines in the dark and light grays. The rest of the features draw inspiration from the state nickname. The right sleeve has a seal on it which includes a beehive and the word "Industry" along with the year 1847, the year of the first settlement in the Salt Lake Valley. The front and back have a minimal honeycomb pattern. The back also has a honeybee icon which ties all of the symbols together. The left sleeve and left leg of the bibs include the word "Utah" wrapped around them.

I'm thinking I may do an East Coast state next. I'll keep everyone informed on the details.

Cycling Kits

Over the past couple months I've been working on designing custom cycling kits for individual states. I'm starting with states I have a connection to, and may eventually end up doing all 50. I am also thinking of starting a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund their production.

I started with Washington, my home state. The patterns are inspired by pine needles and ferns. The custom monogram is locked up with the nickname and motto. My inspiration came from native american art, and is reminiscent of a fish.

Imagery inspired obviously from the coastline of California, but also most frequently ridden Strava segments in the state. The crown on the back of the jersey as well as the text on the bibs references the story of the origin of the name California.

Patterns on the arms are small hop illustrations because we all know beer is important to Wisconsinites. The other patterns play off corn fields. The monogram was designed specifically to look reminiscent of cattle brands, after all, the nickname "Dairy Capitol of America" is wrapped around the collar. The arrow under the monogram stands for the state motto, which is "Forward". The small illustration on the back left pocket is a snowflake pattern of barley.