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 ibm.com/design/thinking. 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.