How IBM Design Exposed Me to a Global Scale of Ideas, Challenges, and Solutions

By Douglas Powell

As shared by Douglas Powell, an IBM Distinguished Designer

After more than 25 years in the design industry, I started at IBM in early 2013 shortly after the IBM Design program had launched. At that time, IBM was not considered a leader in the design world, but I was inspired by the mission of IBM Design to create a sustainable culture of design at the world’s most established and enduring technology company.

Establishing and Expanding the IBM Design Program

douglas-powell
Douglas Powell, an IBM Distinguished designer

I joined just before the first major cohort of 60 new designers joined the company that summer, and my first role at IBM was to help lead the onboarding of that group of new designers as part of the IBM Design Bootcamp (we called it Designcamp then).

In my first year at IBM I established a practice for teaching and facilitating the practice of design thinking in a multifaceted program of training modules which included newly-hired designers, multi-disciplinary project teams, and IBM executives. As these programs grew and gained traction, my focus shifted toward the expansion of the IBM Design program. Currently my attention is primarily pointed toward the global network of IBM Studios, which is now 30 studios strong. I spend a lot of my time and energy visiting and connecting with the designers and leaders who work in these studios.

In my current role, I am mostly focused on designing the program of design at IBM (I know, very “meta”). We have hired roughly 1,000 new designers into IBM in the last three-and-a-half years and the future of our company largely rests on whether these designers are in a position to do their very best work. By creating a great experience for designers as they enter our company, and by creating an awesome environment in which they can practice design with their multi-disciplinary teams, we’ll be able to achieve this.

Increasingly, my attention is pointed toward IBM clients and partners who are hungry for design thinking enablement. IBM is uniquely positioned to provide this service and to help our clients transform due to the combination of our deep credibility in the technology sector and our new leadership in design-driven change.

Growing at a Global Scale

I’ve grown tremendously in my time at IBM. One of the things that initially drew me to the company was the global scale of IBM. As design has established itself as a professional discipline in the last quarter century, we really have not seen companies of the scale of IBM integrating design and designers into their organization. In fact, IBM is now the largest single employer of formerly-trained designers in the world. Figuring out how to operate in this extremely complex culture and business sector has been one of the biggest professional challenges I’ve faced. The more opportunities I have to cross the traditional IBM business boundaries, the more I learn and grow. I seek out every opportunity to work with people in all of the software product Business Units, and all over the services organization. It’s often uncomfortable to drop into these entrenched organizations, but they are all filled with talented and dedicated people and I learn a ton from everyone I meet and work with.

Seek Out New Challenges and Situations

The one piece of advice I would give young professionals (and especially designers) is to expose yourself to as many different situations as you can. This doesn’t mean you have to change companies—IBM is a massive organization with a vast amount of opportunity—but you do need to seek out new challenges and situations that will force you to find your way and build your skills of resiliency and problem solving.


If you are a passionate problem-solver, able to empathize with users and turn that empathy into design insight, join IBM Design and help us create exceptional experiences.

Learn more about IBM Design Thinking

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Read more IBM Design stories here.

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