IBM Design Bootcamp (Part 1)

The Journey Begins

Photo Credit: Oen Hammonds

As part of my IBM Design Bootcamp experience, I am writing a six-part blog series detailing the ins-and-outs of what its like to make my way into the IBM Design world. This is a repost from the IBM Jobs Blog; read original here.


“We are so excited to see you for IBM Design Bootcamp on Tuesday, January 19!”

This invitation, a line in an email I’d received one week ago, echoed through my mind as I rode the elevator to the IBM Studios Austin 7th floor. Today I’d embark on IBM Design Bootcamp: a three-month on-boarding experience crafted by IBM Design for its early-career, newly minted IBM Designers. I was jittery with nerves.

The moment I stepped through the door, all my nerves vanished. We were greeted by a group of designers cheering at the top of their lungs, welcoming us to the IBM Design community. It felt exciting; in a company that some see as a huge impersonal corporation, it was exhilarating to be greeted with such excitement from my first day.

My IBM Design Bootcamp cohort consists of 45 excited new designers, most of us right out of college. Our professional domains vary and overlap: our group includes Researchers, User Experience Designers, Visual Designers, and Front-End Developers. Beneath the surface of our official titles live a cornucopia of skills: we are story tellers, caricaturists, scribes, illustrators, musicians, motion designers, industrial designers and builders.

Our time will be divided into three phases: a week-long accessibility hackathon, a four-week-long micro-project, and a seven-week-long incubator project. We also attend daily design workshops, to learn about key aspects of the design process, and career workshops, to help us to establish and forge a path toward our professional goals.

Breaking the Ice

“Design and code a website introducing your new team. Oh, and you have an hour. Go!”

It was one heck of an icebreaker. Our 45-person cohort had just been divided into three groups of 15, and — at day three — we were still polite new acquaintances.

Panic ensued, followed by all disciplines outlining how we could accomplish this ridiculous feat. Designers divided up their work and the Front-End Developers immediately started coding framework for the site. As the timer ticked away, designers came running with new assets and Front-End Developers frantically worked to complete the code.

One example of the websites created

At the end of the hour, we had our first playback. Playbacks, a key concept of IBM Design Thinking, gather all team members together to reflect on the work as equals; basically, it’s a safe space to give and receive criticism. The websites showed an obvious lack of polish, but honestly, the work was surprisingly good. Design and code were production-ready and no two teams’ websites looked the same. Each was cleverly conceived and crafted, containing anything from videos or GIFs to photography.

The ice was broken; our Winter Design Bootcamp 2016 journey had begun.

Accessibility Hackathon

“This is about good design, not just accessibility. It’s about making it great for everybody.”

These words, spoken by an IBM designer during a user research interview, stuck with me throughout week one of IBM Design Bootcamp. Each team had been asked to craft a production-ready experience that would explain how to design for a certain type of accessibility (blindness, cognitive, and physical). The point was to educate ourselves — and each other — on something many of us had never before considered: how to design inclusively for those with disabilities.

Over the course of five days, we broke down the problem, researched, interviewed designers, brainstormed ideas, wireframed, designed, and coded an interactive experience. Then, we synthesized all this work into a 20 minute playback presentation. As expected, we stayed in the studio late to prepare the night before.

The day of the playbacks — our first major IBM Design Bootcamp milestone — arrived and everyone was nervous. We were presenting not only to the entire bootcamp cohort, but also to our IBM Accessibility partners and anyone in IBM Studios Austin who wanted to drop in.

Every team produced amazing work. Two things stuck out as I listened to the playbacks:

First, the sheer breadth of solutions we found to a similar problem was nothing short of inspiring. Our project outcomes ranged from a design guide to a working GitHub plugin that would alert you when your code wasn’t accessible. When unleashed, creativity knows no bounds, and it was on full display during these playbacks.

Second, the intense — and successful — collaboration each newly-formed team was delightful and impressive. Everyone’s diverse talents came into play, leveraging expertise wherever possible. We put aside our egos, dove in, and did what was best for the user. What could be more valuable than that?

At the end of the playbacks, the IBM Accessibility gave each team feedback. Their goal is to take our solutions, figure out which ones work best, and incorporate them to build out IBM’s accessibility portfolio. One concept is currently being presented to the General Manager of IBM Design, Phil Gilbert.

As a cohort, we’re learning to move fast and not get attached to something “we” designed. This proved especially true in our accessibility project. At first, we presented the expected solution. But upon a second pass, we moved quickly past the obvious and the ordinary and came up with a solution that was much more unique.

At the heart of IBM Design Thinking is a basic practice: observe a pattern, reflect on how to improve it, and then make that experience real. Sometimes when we come back to reflect upon the design, it doesn’t work. And that’s okay. That’s why we work together — to solve problems, and to explore further than we thought possible.

That’s the experience.


Read the rest of the stories here.

Thanks for reading — If you liked this post, please hit the green heart below! I will be writing more posts around major milestones to reflect on my time at IBM Design Bootcamp.

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