Operation Bee One: A Service Design Project

Andrew Cuevas
Jul 24, 2019 · 6 min read

Co-written by Jose Banuelos and Andrew Cuevas

In this article, we want to share what we’ve learned from our Design Thinking Project during our design internship at IBM. We were tasked with researching and generating solutions for Unified Governance & Integration (UG&I) to improve the way they manage and document complex UX patterns. In product design, complex UX patterns are solutions that designers reuse to solve common usability problems. They are composed of multiple UX elements that are put together in order for the user to complete a specific task.

With that said, our research focused on this big question:

“How can we bring greater efficiency, transparency, and consistency to complex UX patterns across product teams within UG&I?”

With these three factors in mind, we went through the discovery phase, the solution exploration, and the execution of our final deliverables. Our aim was to come up with solutions that prevented designers from reinventing the wheel. How were we supposed to do that? Many of the designers we interviewed said that they saw how consistency across all products in the portfolio was becoming critical to the workflow and beneficial to the users. Internally, it could save time, and it allowed designers to focus on bigger problems. To the perspective of the software users, it allowed for better usability when you use multiple products from the same portfolio. According to most of these designers, there was a need for improvement in bringing products together, and this might take a great deal of work. We saw that this would be a challenging project.

We interviewed more than ten designers on UG&I in order to get a better idea of who our users were and what their needs were. This gave us the opportunity to listen to and empathize with them. The way they described what they do, what they think, and how they feel helped us understand their pain points.

But it didn’t end there. Being able to interpret the research insights further was crucial, and taking good notes was an important step to achieve that. For instance, creating an affinity map helped us identified patterns of commonalities from our gathered data from our interviews:

  • Need for Enhanced Documentation
  • Easier Access to Shareable Files
  • More Awareness to Existing UX Patterns
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Time and Effort
Affinity map was an exercise where we mapped out insights, clustered them together, identified connections, and understanding why the problem existed.

These designers might have been working on different products, but they shared the struggle when it came to UX patterns. It was inevitable for designers to do duplicate work because there was a lack of awareness around current existing patterns across the organization.

“If consistency is what you’re going for, then you need to include logic. The logic needs to be the guide.”

- Design Manager

This project demonstrated the value of having a design system. Coming here, we only had basic knowledge about design systems. This project expanded our knowledge about design systems. We discovered that there’s so much more to a design system than icon size consistency. A design system is a product of its own. We looked at other enterprise-sized design systems and learned that it involves having a team model, protocols that demands numerous meetings, and a lot of time.

One of the highlights from doing the solution exploration was the Big Ideas Vignette exercise. This was a helpful activity as we collaborated directly with our users. The activity consisted of everyone coming up with different ideas and then spending time giving explanations on how and why they solve the problem. This was important because we were able to hear what the users want and need in a very direct way. We then prioritized those big ideas according to what impact they had on the users and how feasible they were to implement. From doing this activity, the ideas we first considered such as using an IBM internal tool as a platform and hiring a designated person to be in charge were not feasible due to budget constraints or a lack of perceived impact.

Here are some of the ideas that were generated from our Big Ideas Vignette exercise:

Our design lead also introduced us to a new exercise called Morphological Synthesis. This activity helped us solve different user problems by taking Big Ideas and combining them into one. The activity was not just about taking different solutions and combining them together. Instead, it was about taking a look at the users’ problems and applying the solution in every phase of the user scenario. This was where we started to solidify those big ideas by making them concrete and detailed. It took many discussions, and we asked questions as we tried to identify both the strong and weak points.

Upon laying out the roadmap of the full experience, we encountered some problems and things to consider. One was the 9-hour time zone difference since UG&I consists of product teams located in Austin, San Jose, and Böblingen, Germany. If we wanted to align people and help everyone get on the same page, we had to make sure everyone was either physically or digitally present and part of the process from the beginning. Another was trying to have everyone attend without having to sound demanding. We thought about incentives to gather people together and came to the realization that the benefit of working towards consistency is the incentive itself. If we help designers understand the benefit they will get from this and why this is important, we could get equal participation from everyone.

Our final solution was a get-together for the organization as a whole. We wanted a time where everyone could discuss, and decide on a final solution for UX patterns that have been used multiple times. For our final deliverable, we shared a web-like PDF showing our most viable experience. The PDF will contain links to templates we designed in order to make the process go as smooth as possible. Here are few points from it:

The Jam

The Jam will consist of Design Leads, Design Managers, Visual Designers, and UX Designers from all product teams within the organization. Members of every team will be shuffled around so that every team has at least 1 person from a different team. This is so that every team has domain knowledge about every product. Teams will be provided with a list of UX patterns that need to be unified. Once finished, teams will playback their results, get feedback, make corrections, and do a final playback.


A template will be given to all the product teams to help them document their final designs. This will include sections for special problems, usage, and the overall flow of the design. To finish it off, it will have direct links so anyone in the IBM organization can have access to them.

To conclude, we hope that this project serves as a foundation for a more efficient and more transparent organization and a more consistent portfolio.

IBM Design

Stories from the practice of design at IBM

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