My IBM Design Bootcamp Experience– The Journey Begins

By Eytan Davidovits & Rachel Sibley.

This is a 6-part blog series by (and about) Eytan Davidovits, a Visual Designer who joined IBM Design in December 2015. In January 2016, Eytan embarked on IBM Design Bootcamp, an intensive 3-month onboarding experience for early career design talent, and decided to chronicle his adventures. Take a peek inside Eytan’s world; you’ll learn skills and practices at the heart of IBM Design Thinking. Eytan is one face of the future of IBMand of Design itself.

Design New Hire Story

The Journey Begins

“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 7th floor of IBM Studios Austin.  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 crowd of designers cheering at the top of their lungs, welcoming us to the IBM Design community. In a company that some see as huge and impersonal, it was exhilarating to be greeted with such excitement from my first day.

Austin Sign

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 storytellers, 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.

Make believers

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 lacked of polish, but 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. As expected, we stayed in the studio late to prepare the night before.

When playback day dawned, everyone was nervous. It was our first major IBM Design Bootcamp milestone.  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.

As I listened to the playbacks, two things stuck out:

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 displayed by 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, Mary Jo Mueller and Bo Campbell of 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 after 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.


Eytan Davidovits

Eytan Davidovits is a UCLA graduate and current member of the IBM Analytics team. He specializes in Visual Design. Connect with him on twitter via @eytand.

Rachel Sibley

Rachel Sibley is a communications maven who loves to tell great stories. She has served as a communications consultant to executives in international tech, the Los Angeles and New York art worlds, and leading international publications. Her current delight? To source and share design-centric discoveries as lead storyteller for the global IBM Design studios.  Connect with her on twitter via @sibleyspeaks

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