IBM's Design Education Program


In short

I worked as a design researcher and service designer to create the new, sustainable, design education program responding to our current talent pool, hiring volumes, leadership needs, and most importantly, user experience. This program runs for new hire glasses of ~70 early professionals, as well as an internship for ~20 almost-early professionals. Over the course of this project, I created an original point of view, delivered a redesigned experiences, created feedback loops and used the data to make future decisions.


January 2018 - April 2019


Thousands of IBM designers have had a similar experience upon entrance, but not consistent and far too expensive to the business.

Inconsistency with the IBM design education program is it difficult to ensure every designer has a baseline set of learning about IBM desire. The inconsistency of experience makes different leaders and designers question the value i’m sending new hires to the program. The business needs a more reputable predictable less expensive education program to attract train and retain early crew professionals, while new hires need a way to learn about the business, products, and our prices I’m thinking, and build a network within IBM.


Since the inception of the IBM DesignStudio there have been unique attempts at attracting training and retaining design talent. The primary medium and first touchpoint within IBM design, was the design Boot Camp for new hires. This program originally ran for three months, giving every early career professionals the chance to bond as a community, learn about IBM design thinking, and acclimate to the working style and product space of IBM.

In attempt to make these experiences and memorable and valuable to the new hire, the previous experience required a high touch approach. Although memorable, many factors relied on the individual owning and delivering this boot camp experience. While conducting user research from all design disciplines, every Boot Camp generation, and different skill levels, our findings pointed at the fact that this high touch program waivers each year is both the strongest in the weakest component of the program. Leaders of a program group might identify a handful of strong pain points from the previous group and set out to solve. Overtime the programs would swing on the pendulum one year to the next solving some problems while creating havoc. The lack of structure and consistency made it impossible to ensure a set of outcomes to every new hire graduating from Boot Camp.

Redesign process

Our many stakeholders

In order to understand the many factors relating to the required outcomes, we met with organization leaders, design leaders, hiring managers, and past boot camp leaders. Design leaders hoped for designers to be on boarded to their teams practices (tooling, workflow, product background knowledge). Organization leaders hoped to have context about the business, driving forces, technology relevant to each hiring business unit.Hiring managers hoped to teach new hires more about specific methods used on each team parentheses every team has a different version of these). And previous boot camp leaders wanted the experience to run smoothly, consistently, and with less interpersonal drama.

On the other hand, the users experiencing of the program had a large set of other complaints requests and needs. Understanding the type of new hire going to this program, means you also must solve your problems unrelated to IBM, and in fact just general first job gaps in knowledge. There was a huge disconnect between stakeholder needs of educating about our specific company, and the user needs of acclimated to a working environment. my research Indicated that if we can properly teach a new employee how to be successful in a corporate setting, regardless of the IBM flavor, we can enable that person to feel that they are set up for success, and us will be less likely to contribute to attrition.

Setting up for success

The idea of setting the program up for success drove many of our structuring decisions. Given the many stakeholders at play we need to have your success metrics that satisfy each of their highest priority concerns. To address the request for the business of making the program repeatable and less expensive, the program has shrunk in size from 12 to 6 weeks.

For the hiring managers and design leaders, we introduced a discipline specific learning path. This is not intended to replace or augment college courses, instead this is focused on taking the design skills required for employment and rooting them in a context appropriate and likely in the IBM environment.

For the new hires, we developed a set of goals that they are expected to achieve in the six month experience. Each of you which are relatable for all disciplines, because they are centered around soft developmental skills. With these goals in mind, the leaders of the program and stakeholders of each project can provide pointed feedback about individuals regarding areas of growth. The feedback on these goals help advise hiring managers on how best to lead their new hire off the bat.


Understanding that each round of this education program relies heavily on individuals to flavor the water, a goal in the redesign was to ensure the positive components are measured, proven to be positive, made to be repeatable and consistent.

For all initial program design decisions, I created a reference sheet (spreadsheet) documenting aspects of the program and the reasoning behind them. For example, where they learned lessons from the past, mandates from leadership, or results of user research.

Repeatability and Consistency

We designed the schedule of the program to be repeatable and treated as modules. I established best-practice team behaviors to ensure everyone is reporting the same type of information, week after week, in order to track progression over time. Furthermore, I created a series of feedback loops through surveys, one-on-ones, peer reviews, and touchpoints, retrieving user feedback for the many sessions, activities, and processes of our Patterns program.


We tested the lowest-possible-touch program in 2018 and set up regular feedback loops to measure the impact. Confirming the hypothesis, going from 100% human supported and lead (in years preceding 2017) to 100% autonomously driven, had significant negative impact on the overall morale, production quality, and reputation of the revised design program.

The incubator program, the program of real IBM projects scoped through manageable trunk for our new hires, was still sustainable with lower level of support. We shifted focus from design leader providing guidance to stakeholders from the project, in the business, providing that same guidance. This was to give more applicable experience to our new hires in dealing with leaders from different backgrounds, speaking languages might not be as familiar.

Based on surveys and program-exit interviews, we found that the areas designated the most helpful were (unsurprisingly) the areas with the most human support. In some cases, there was zero support from humans, which ranked the least helpful.

Among many improvements to make from our first iteration of the Patterns program, there was a glaring need for more support staff, which would also result in one of the highest impacts. This data secured our leadership's buy-in for our team to develop and design a new role.

Iterating and Evolving

In response to the lack of human support, the team outlined the responsibilities needing ownership and a persona style role began to emerge.

This person was not a manager who must approve of and provide direction for their work.

This person was not a parental or host figure reminding the new hires of forgotten chores or responsibilities.

This person was not an administrative assistant that is consulted upon every quandary or delegated to for annoying tasks.

This person is a mentor, and design leader in their field. This person is the Tim Gunn to Project Runway. This person is there for moral support and advice on managing the design side of the project.

This person is a cohort coach.

Read all about the cohort coach program here.

Our best attempt at a group photo coordinating 80+ fun-loving superstars. Winter, 2019.

Learned Lessons

Planning every moment shows how much you care about their experience. It isn’t even what you do but more of accounting for everyone. Intention is often felt. Good design feels thoughtful and precious.

Using Format