IBM Designcamp. Part 1.

This is the true story of seventy-eight designers… picked to work in a design studio… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real… This is IBM Designcamp.


I’ve made a career out of telling stories. When I worked as a developer I told stories about how code connected to other code. About servers talking to clients. As a UX designer I told stories about people experiencing, interacting, and enjoying products. As a product manager I find the inspiration and vision to tell the story of the product.

I work at IBM. More specifically at IBM Design. There’s a story happening here about culture and reinvention. Some might even say about revolution.

One part of that story involves 78 new designers who embarked on a journey known as Designcamp a little over two weeks ago. IBM Designcamp is somewhere between boot camp and summer camp. There’s a lot of stress. A lot of storytelling. And a lot of Post-Its.

Over the course of three months teams comprised of ux, interaction, user-research, visual, and design/devs get dropped into the deep end to immerse themselves in IBM Design Thinking practices, research activities, and try their hands at solving some of the stickiest problems in enterprise software. It’s all to prepare them for eventual deployment to product teams where they have been tasked to reinvent how IBM creates software. No pressure.

The new designers break the mold of the typical IBM engineer. They wear bright shoes, have cool haircuts and sometimes tattoos. They’re loud, laugh a lot, and are younger than some of the flyers hanging on the walls of the otherwise sleepy corridors of endless cubicles and fluorescent lights. The design studio is ultra modern, ultra functional, and full of energy.

I am fortunate enough to have been chosen to lead 13 of these new designers. At times I am their drill sergeant. At others their friend. We guide our teams through the treacherous terrain of product design but certainly don’t carry their bags for them. I thought that I knew empathy before this experience but don’t think I fully appreciated it.

The designers are told to fail fast, fail often. And that they do. It’s painful to watch teams struggle, to get frustrated again and again, to watch them learn what doesn’t work the hard way. To see them come through to the other side and find the emotion, the empathy, and the truth of the story for their users. It’s magical.

This is just the beginning of my time as a Designcamp Lead. There are ten more weeks of training— sending a clear indication that IBM isn’t messing around when they say they’re investing in design. We’re training design ninjas.

There’s an energy in the air as soon as you step out of the elevator to the design studio. There’s a new story being told. With the announcement of the IBM + Apple partnership you can say for sure big things are on the horizon.

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