Inside IBM’s design revolution, where users are at the heart of every project

15 Nov 2018

IBM Cloud Garage design lead Jocelyne Dittmer. Image: IBM

IBM Cloud Garage design lead Jocelyne Dittmer reveals how designing the user into every experience is influencing almost every facet of what the iconic tech giant does today.

IBM Cloud Garage design lead Jocelyne Dittmer laughs in recognition when I point out that, a decade ago, titles like ‘data scientist’ or ‘UX designer’ would have confounded a lot of experienced people in the tech industry.

Now these are among the most sought-after skills as data becomes the fabric of most products and services in any industry and even the most venerable and longest-standing tech giants like IBM need to think lean like a start-up.

‘The world is changing. Data is really important and being able to make better use of it is what a lot of our clients are thinking about’

As a design lead in the technology and innovation space, Dittmer focuses on designing effective user experiences that shape how people interact with products, services, technology, information and other people.

Throughout her process she applies a broad range of methodologies, drawing from design thinking and Lean methodologies. This involves closely collaborating with clients and internal teams via innovation workshops through the delivery of an MVP (minimal viable product).

She has been with the IBM Cloud Garage for the past two and a half years, and guides the design practice across the EMEA design team.

Prior to the Garage, Dittmer served as a designer in the financial and media space. She worked with top companies in North America, Europe and Africa to craft meaningful digital user experiences.

Design IT and they will use IT

“The Garage has been around for four years now. We see ourselves as a start-up within IBM. Most of our offices are situated within the start-up community, hence having our recent Dublin experience in the WeWork space in Dublin and we have a WeWork space in London.

“What we are about is designing new processes, new ways of working, and we work with clients in any range of industries.”

In all, Dittmer said that there are 13 IBM Cloud Garages dispersed around the world.

“What we do hinges on design thinking with a start-up methodology, and tying that into delivering complex architecture and technologies. My position is really around owning that design space and bringing a clear design point of view to a lot of the projects we have running.”

Methodologies and skillsets include everything from blockchain to training on machine learning and internet of things.

“IBM is a company that has evolved and changed and reinvented itself so many times that, especially with incorporating design thinking into its practices, it has changed the overall approach in ways of working within IBM which is exactly where we need to be heading.”

On the topic of design being a game-changer for tech companies, she said: “I think it is really important that we are taking that human-centric approach, but marrying that with the best practices for technology. You are still designing something, at the end of the day, that people want.

“It is my role to bring that point of view across to any projects we are working on to make sure we are taking that human-centric approach and tying back to user needs. That means working closely with technologists on the team to make sure we are designing things that are possible but also pushing the boundaries of what could be possible and being at the forefront of change.”

Sweat saves blood: How design methodologies could prevent costly IT failures

A lot of what Dittmer focuses on involves helping clients to understand the value of the data they have. “They come to us and say ,‘We think we have all of this data, can you help us to make sense of what value can actually be derived from it?’

“It still comes down to making sure everyone is taking that user-centred approach to understand what value could come from it, and then leaning on data scientists and analytics experts to really give us guidance on how to invest in and make use of that data.

“Sometimes that data could deliver a better user experience. Other times it could be a way of automating things better or creating a predictive model to provide more learnings and refine with machine learning over time.

“The key question is anchored around what is the business value that is going to drive revenue. That leads to how do we make sure we are focusing on the right things and going in the right direction. You could spend 10 years collecting data, but from my perspective it is all about making sure that approach is anchored from the benefit you want to derive from it.”

Dittmer said that the process can involve quick iterations and a lean UX approach rather than spending three years building something no one may use or that will not work, which was the hallmark of IT failures in the 1990s and 2000s. “It means making quick experiments around getting the best use of that data or creating a new user experience and seeing if it would fly.

“The world is changing. Data is really important and being able to make better use of it is what a lot of our clients are thinking about.”

Crucially, Dittmer concluded, it is about creating the products and services people will use, having empathy for user needs, and making a positive impact on the bottom line.

“Our whole focus at Cloud Garage is bringing the user to the centre of every project we are working on. And that’s the big difference in IT today, it all hinges on taking that human-centred design approach.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years