I spent a summer as a design intern at IBM.
My team redeveloped the landing page for IBM's charitable World Community Grid, which is now live. However, reaching that final product was anything but simple.
IBM is currently undergoing a massive shift in culture, with IBM Design at its forefront. Part of their plan is to hire over 2,500 designers, and I was one of fifteen software design interns who spent the summer of 2015 sharing a studio in Austin, Texas with these new hires.
This wasn’t your typical coffee and copies internship, it was essentially a semester at the company. On week one, we were given a crash course in IBM Design Thinking, a design framework which stresses empathy with the user.
Our entire group was tasked with completing a small project with a tight deadline so we could learn how to put these ideas into action. For this initial project, we were in constant contact with our supervisors, who gave us plenty of guidance.
After the first week, we were split into small groups and began using the principles we learned to improve a specific product. My group of five was tasked with helping IBM’s charitable initiative, the World Community Grid, to grow its member base by redesigning the signup experience. After discussing WCG with its creators, we conducted interviews with current and prospective users to determine the true problems behind the Grid's lagging member growth.
As we talked to users, we discovered that the signup experience was a mere symptom of the bigger problem: People did not understand what the World Community Grid actually did. We brainstormed many off-the-wall solutions to make the concept more clear, user-testing each one to poke holes in it before developing it any further. Throughout the process, observing and listening to how regular people used our product became our primary decision making force.
In the end, our result was a series of mockups for a streamlined, approachable landing page, with visual tools to help users understand and trust the World Community Grid. These mockups were recently made live, and the new site earned IBM a Webby Award and was featured in Fast Company's Most Innovative Student Design of 2016.
The Lessons Learned
Interviewing users throughout the design process was a revelation to me, because I often get caught up in my own grand ideas and don't realize their glaring holes until too late. Also, as a minor in cultural anthropology, I relished the opportunity to partake in what were essentially field studies.
Communicating with coders
To envision a new website, I had to create wireframes, sitemaps, and study the basics of UX/UI design. I can now communicate better with those working in interactive fields.
Telling a story
Each week, we presented our results in short Keynotes. I made some fun whiteboard sketches that illustrated the concepts we were trying to get across. Combined with the well-paced presentation our team developed, we kept our clients engaged and interested all the way through.
I am extremely lucky to have been able to work with a group of incredibly intelligent people from all sorts of fields. I got to trade fonts with a graphic designer from MICA, discuss user responses with a physics major at Yale, and hear the science of UX Design from a Kent State CS major. I learned how to compromise and work within a group, even when my instincts told me to be a control freak.
After the first few weeks, our supervisors stepped back, letting us work independently to figure out the projects on our own. I now feel more prepared to enter a field in which working together is just as important as understanding your own style.