I’ve Been at IBM for 6 Months, and It Wasn’t What I Expected.

Kaley Coffield
Jul 17 · 4 min read

Disclaimer: I am writing about IBM, but really I am writing about me. Everything is my opinion and a reflection on my personal experience.

I started a job as a designer on IBM Cloud 6 months ago.

It was really quite a roller coaster ride. Despite IBM’s promise of a strong design culture, I was hesitant to take the job. Would it be too corporate? Would it be too slow? Do they really practice human centered design?

The answer is yes and no. I’ll explore my thoughts below.

Too corporate?

If by corporate you mean dull (like I did), the answer is no. I found myself immediately surrounded by smart, thoughtful, and creative people. I had imagined designers in business casual, clicking away at their desks, but on Day 1, my new teammates (and our beloved sloth, Cinnamon) welcomed me in with an over-the-top display covering my new desk, setting a playful tone that’s lasted.

Too slow?

Yes and no. I’ve been trained to move quickly and imperfectly. To end each day with some evidence to show for what was accomplished. The truth is, I’m prone to obsessing over my work, to lie in bed thinking about it until it infiltrates my dreams. Sometimes I feel like I am creeping along here. How is it that 6 months have already passed? At other times, I am making decisions by the seat of my pants because things are constantly changing. Ultimately though, the balance of work here at IBM has helped me to obsess less. Generally, I feel more in control than before. The condition of not struggling to keep one’s head above water, shouldn’t be undervalued. Now, I do a better job of devoting energy to all the aspects of life that make me feel complete — relationships, hobbies, and projects outside of work that connect me to the broader Austin design community.

It’s the reliance we have on each others’ work here that sets the pace. I can’t do everything myself any longer. That’s new for me. For the past 12 years I worked as a teacher, entrepreneur, and freelance designer — all of which required me to do all the heavy lifting to get anything done. Now, I get buy-in and feedback before most things I create. The corporate part about it, is the fact that our work involves a lot of people. There are many different folks involved, often carrying around conflicting agendas, and each person or group of people hopes to see their own agenda prioritized. I can’t even say this is good or bad necessarily. I think we need each person to play their role in championing a value. For designers, it’s the user. For OMs, it’s the business value. For developers, it’s the technical considerations. We can all work together to balance each other and deliver an even better outcome — right?

Do we REALLY practice human-centered design?

I think here is where we have room to grow. The truth is, it’s too easy not to do it. It’s too easy to fake it. Truly doing human-centered design is exhausting! The work is highly collaborative, and requires constant thinking, listening, and being on your feet and updating designs. And it never ends. It’s easier to attend a workshop and check the HCD box, than to actually continue with the practice. It’s easier to sit down and write up a persona based on a couple of conversations than it is to go out into the field and meet someone in person. I am completely guilty of this. My stakeholders are other designers and developers on IBM Cloud. I started off strong interviewing, affinitizing, and synthesizing, but then I got caught up on the project itself and starting driving the project for its own purpose, as opposed to the purpose it serves my stakeholders.

Humans, including designers and including myself, are lazy. If there is a way to get out work done without having to talk to anyone, we will probably do it. If there is a way to get our work done while sipping margaritas next to the pool, we will probably do that, too. So maybe the question is, how do we hold ourselves accountable within our own practice?

Overall

I am incredibly grateful I ignored my initial hesitancy. I’ve achieved more balance in my life than I’ve ever had, surrounded myself by sharp people, and have the opportunity to learn about design at scale. Though our design practice still has room to grow, I hope to be a driver of that growth as I continue to develop my own practice.

Kaley Coffield

Written by

Designer, educator, and creative hobbyist

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