Building an Environment for Innovative Design

By Adam Cutler
Adam Cutler, Director, IBM Design Studio
Adam Cutler, Director, IBM Design Studio

Good design is good business.” — Thomas J. Watson, 1956

Sixteen years before Thomas Watson Jr. told this to students at the University of Pennsylvania, he hired Eliot Noyes to create IBM’s first corporate design program. Noyes and other design leaders, such as Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen, collaborated to craft IBM’s identity—from the Selectric typewriter to the Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.

IBM used good design to demystify technology in a technically immature world. Today, good design helps tackle a different, but no less acute, problem caused by technology overload.

This week, we dedicated a new IBM Design Studio in Austin, a strong initial step to drive a company-wide effort to put humans at the center of our products. Human-centered design requires a high degree of interaction between people who use the solution and those who build it.

The rapid adoption of mobile, social, cloud, and big data presents significant design challenges—not only to software developers, but also to users who have to connect and make sense of the volume and compatibility of information. How our products look, feel and work must contribute to a specific outcome—and be designed for the people using it.

New spaces for new challenges

Our vision is that people will love IBM’s products and solutions. Specifically, they will love them because they work together, they work the same, and they work for me as a user.

Inside IBM’s new Austin Design Studio
Inside IBM’s new Austin Design Studio

Fostering this love for our offerings necessitates collaboration and empathy—ways of working and thinking that can fall by the wayside in large enterprises. Our new Studio is designed to provide an environment for innovative design thinking on the fly and a culture in which users comes first.

The Austin IBM Design Studio will grow to 50,000 square feet of space built for designers, engineers and product managers to work on products across the IBM portfolio. Our practitioners also attend Designcamps, where they’re educated in IBM Design Thinking, a framework we developed for not just creating great experiences, but also delivering them at scale.

Sticky notes to sticky ideas

IBM Design Thinking focuses teams on market outcomes, helps them envision engaging user experiences, and fosters collaboration and alignment. It requires failing fast so we can learn more quickly and effectively.

Over-thinking a problem is a veil that obscures curiosity. When we speed up our collective thought processes and storyboard ideas together, we get to better solutions faster. IBM Design Thinking is practiced by IBMers from C-suite executives to newly hired designers. And it’s working.

At a recent Designcamp, five members of IBM’s Security AppScan team developed a new way for security analysts to see and manage code vulnerabilities. Imagine a seamless way to go from looking at a universe of code to a street-view level in a few clicks. Now, teams working on IBM PureSystems and Cloud Services are exploring the same concept for fixes and matching cloud services, respectively.

Design thinking at scale

If every IBMer physically went through Designcamp, my team figured that it would take 29 years. The next step: take IBM Design Thinking global and virtual. We want employees to use these techniques, no matter where they work or whom they work with. We also want to create more and deeper partnerships with academia so schools know what the industry needs and IBM can learn from their thought leadership.

Find out more about IBM’s designers and opportunities in Austin and other design studios at


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