How IBM Uses Design Thinking to Better Implement & Understand Diversity

The Austin Urban Tech Movement has made great strides here in Austin, Texas by hosting meetup events targeting minorities in technology. The group hosts these events at the biggest tech companies in Central Texas including Amazon, Oracle and Indeed. Each event opens up the opportunity for networking and to continue the conversation surrounding how these companies can better function in the evolving tech ecosystem.

Their latest event, Driving Radical Collaboration with IBM, was a great opportunity for techies and non-techies alike to learn more about the 100+ year old company’s innovative Design Studio, what’s happening in the current design thinking and engineering space, and how IBM continues to take pride in how to “fail fast, fail often, and fail well.”

Brian Fontenot, co-founder of the Austin Urban Tech Movement, took a moment to welcome everyone and discuss how much the group, previously known as Austin Blacks in Tech, has evolved to focus on a number of diverse groups and topics.

The team from IBM then took the stage for a diversity discussion like no other. Doug Powell, Design Principal at IBM, opened with a statement that resonated with the crowd:

“If our design teams don’t represent the communities they design for, then we have a major problem.”

It’s simple: If more organizations would understand the importance of complete representation, they can reach their goals smoother and faster. Luckily, IBM has helped individuals and groups, like SXSW, learn how to solve major pain points by using a methodology known as design thinking.

Radical Collaboration & Diverse Empowered Teams Panel

IBM’s rockstar panel included a group who has great experiences at the company and truly understands the difference of thinking outside of the checkbox when it comes to what makes unique groups flow together.

Everyone in attendance was a fan of Liz Holz, one of the first four Distinguished Designers at IBM and the first black woman to hold that title. As the Director of IBM’s Design Security Division, she creates products for companies trying to protect their data from hackers. Therefore, she understands that everyone wants to solve a problem together, but it takes a diverse team, especially when it comes to levels of seniority, to make it functional.

When speaking on functionality, some believe the most practical teams are those that meet deadlines. On the other hand, some designers are on a completely different sheet of music. Mikaela Moore, Senior Offering Manager of Watson Education at IBM, has a background in teaching 10th Grade English and uses that experience to create roadmaps for creators to use in the classroom. With her, if she’s working on a team with someone who is not meeting a deadline, she views it as a sign of disrespect. With that being said, working with a team of designers was obviously much different for her. Instead of making a situation like this one difficult, she made it into a learning experience as she was able to learn how designers work and they were able to learn about her direct and passionate work style. Mikaela later went on to say, “It’s easier to solve problems with people you can have lunch with. We may be bucking heads professionally, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it personally.”

Empathy exercises with Mikaela Moore

Most people don’t think about diversity in other buckets outside of the most popular buckets which include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and location. However, diversity in roles and responsibilities is also relevant, especially to Jose Paez, a Software Designer and user researcher. He focuses on supplementing his team so they can get to a better outcome because us humans can’t trust a computer to fix people’s problems. Jose mentioned that “design thinking and approaching a problem together with a collective resolve is the key to solving a lot of the world’s issues.” When we start realizing what problem we’re truly solving, and for what user, we can work better on assigning these items to issues of diversity.

Designer Elayna Spraltey works closely with Mikaela and Jose on Watson Education projects. She mentioned that working directly with them on a project ended up being the most experienced team she’s worked with. With a background in radio and TV broadcasting, she enjoys working at IBM because she’s realized that everyone has different ways of working together, but can still easily collaborate. She enjoys IBM’s workshop days that “give [us] time to think outside of the box so [we] don’t get trapped in the box.”

Miles Anderson, a Product Designer focused on the developer experience, works on changing the way IBM does digital. He worked on a project in his early days at IBM that went on to become the IBM Digital Business Group. Since then, his team has taught him that we often neglect to pay attention to the diversity of language. Think about like this: While Americans typically assume everyone speaks English, which is not the case, we also forget that people who speak the same language all have different dialects as well as terms that have different meanings in different regions of every country. It’s something we as people do not always consider when creating marketing campaigns as people in silos typically think that everyone will simply “get it.” Miles was also quick to point out that people who “keep sitting back in a silo trying to come up with new ideas, [will] run out of them.” It takes people coming together to discuss diversity and social issues from the bottom up to create unique opportunities and outcomes.

As the program wrapped up, Liz was quick to remind us that opportunity makes things transform, especially in the design world. If the general public, corporations, government officials and first responders take a moment to sit down with one another and discuss what each person is thinking, feeling, saying and doing, we’ll better understand each other and the needs we all have to succeed in this diverse world. While a physical computer can’t solve all of our problems, thinking and working on them in an innovative way can put us on the right path.

Keep up with The Austin Urban Tech Movement on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their newsletter to learn about future events.

Also, take a moment to check out photos from the tour of the IBM Design Studio tour which highlighted IBM’s efforts to promote collaboration:

previous arrow
next arrow
previous arrownext arrow