Creating a design language thats uniquely IBM

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The overall structure of IBMs corporate design program is People + Practice + Places.Says Saylor, the motto represents the idea that careful attention to those 3 things will bring the culture change we seek with respect to design in the company.

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Lessons learned scaling design teams

They started with theIBM Design Language.

After the first 60 new IBM Design hires went through Bootcampan intensive program created to create a shared understanding of how to practice design at IBMthey were assigned directly to strategically important and valuable projects.

Joni Saylor, IBM Design Practices Program Director (left), Hayley Hughes, IBM Design Language Lead

Last fall, Hughes and her team took a deep dive into the best ways to continue scaling the language throughout the company, and qualitative and quantitative ways to measure adoption.

our years ago when IBM set out to transform its 100-year-old culture with design thinking practices, the early team at newly founded IBM Design faced an enormous challenge.

Net Promoter Score forms a core part of how all the Practices teams gather feedback on adoption, and the Language team uses it as well.

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I can look at my NPS dashboard at any time and see how well the design language is being received, or whether internal and external people would recommend it, Hughes says. It gives me perspective on both needs and perceptionsand it also gives me sentiment.

Experience IBMs inspiring design thinking transformationin our documentary,THE LOOP.

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We wanted to understand not only how well people have adopted [the design language], but also how well they feel theyve been heard and listened to. Is the language reflective of their actual practice and meeting their needs? Hughes says.

Related:Your guide to design systems from the worlds leading brands

I think these practices will be particularly valuable for our designers, Saylor says. The whole conversation of design plus business has really started to evolvein the last few years. Our designers are embedded in product teams and service delivery teamswe need to equip them to have relevant business conversations and make advocates out of our clients and users.

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Earlier this year at the Austin IBM Design Studio, IBM Design Practices Program DirectorJoni Saylorand IBM Design Language LeadHayley Hughesspoke with us about creating the IBM Design Language, measuring adoption, and the other design practices contributing to IBMs robust transformation.

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There was no design language, there was really nothing, says Liz Holz, IBM Distinguished Designer, in the design transformation shortdocumentary, THE LOOP.

Today, every group has their own flavor of IBM, but what makes us instantly identifiable in the marketplace?

Practice, the middle pillar, is a crucial part of the equation and the charge of the IBM Design Practices team. The team knew they wanted to build out 3 distinct Practices at first: Research, Language, and Thinking.

That was the approachstaff up about 7 projects that matter, right away, and demonstrate what it looks like when you have human-centered design leadership at the table, Saylor says. Show the iconic results you get from the craft and skill of a design language, best practice visual and experience design, and user research. These projects were finally staffed to win.

In the first phase, we were really focused on this idea of helping people see what design could do. Now, were more focused on ensuring the IBM core beliefs and values come through. We want to drive more consistency across our offerings, but with unity, not uniformity, Hughes says.

As for the whole Design Practices group, Saylor says theyll continue to evolve the existing PracticesResearch, Language, and Thinkingbut are also working on developing 2 new practices. The Design Transformation practice will codify the companys approach to design culture change, and the Essential Experiences practice will take on the idea of end-to-end experience and what that should feel like for an IBM offering.

Hayley Hughes, IBM Design Language Lead

Hughes and her team continue to evolve the design language, as the adoption research uncovered an uneven distribution of design. Today, every group has their own flavor of IBM, but what makes us instantly identifiable in the marketplace? We need to differentiate ourselves in a way our clients recognize, and bring our company together around a common ethos.

As for imagining the future of design at IBM, Saylor takes an even larger view. For me, the question is less Whats the future of design in business? and more What does the business look like when designers are leading? she says. Does it mean were creating this different kind of environment where all the disciplines are working together in a totally new way? I think thats really exciting.

Creating a shared vocabulary and guidelines gave existing products quick lifts and instantly improved the consistency of user experiencesacross IBMs many product linesincluding legacy systems.

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In the past few years, as more companies recognize the competitive advantage of design, many are doing as IBM did and releasing their design language and design system publicly. Hughes focus is on ensuring the IBM Design Language reflects the company and all its differentiators.

The IBM Design Practices team, headed then by Distinguished Designer Adam Cutler, needed to build out the entire foundation for the way IBM would practice designand spread it to a company of more than 380,000 around the world, in the face of a long, storied engineering-centered culture.

You could look at these projects and see, Wow, these arent just updated UIs, Saylor says. The concept, fundamentally, was and is striking a chord with our clients and users.Thatshow we started to build momentum.

Hughes teams research uncovered a few potential pain points, including the realization thatteams outside design or immediately adjacent to design needed to be included more.

Now that the IBM Design Language is a few years old, Saylor and Hughes say the next priority is continuing to evolveand to prioritize outcomes as much as process.

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As part of our research for THE LOOP documentary, we spoke with many IBMers about how design practices spread throughout the company to create the remarkable product and business outcomes IBM and its clients are seeing.

Strategically, it was important to make [the design language] first. We got quick wins out into the market and were able to show value clearly and qualitatively. Joni Saylor, Program Director, IBM Design Practices

Just like over 3 million of your fellow designers do.

The design language was the first thing we created, says Saylor. Strategically, it was important to make it first. We got quick wins out into the market and were able to show value clearly and qualitatively. People could see the changethis screen or product or experience is irrefutably better than what came before it.

Weve gotten a lot of great feedback that the first release of the design language helped people design for their users, she says. Now, how do we help design for users in a way thats uniquely IBM? How do we make sure the experience of an IBM product is recognizable in every way? How can we prioritize that outcome and put the clients success first? Thats whats next for us.

The designers could use the language effectively and apply the assets, Hughes says, but they were getting a lot of conflicting guidance from other parts of the business on what worked best for the types of experiences they create. For example, designing an event experience has its own considerations, and we wanted every piece of the user experience to work together. Thats what drove us to start engaging more with other parts of the businessbrand, marketing, and sales.

Creating design-driven data visualization with IBMs Hayley Hughes

Related:Scaling design thinking in the enterprise

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