Charlie Hill is a software product designer and an advocate for user-centric product development. As distinguished engineer and chief technical officer for design, Charlie is helping to build a world-class design capability across IBM. Charlie leads development and worldwide implementation of IBM Design Thinking, IBM's cross-disciplinary product development practice. We sat down to talk more about design thinking leading up to Charlie’s keynote at CXNYC 2015.

Photo of Charlie HillQ: In the process of bringing hundreds of new designers into the IBM product teams, you’ve created a structured program around onboarding and general training. Can you tell us more about that program and how it started?

A: There are two related things that we focus on: education and activation. Broadly speaking, we look for ways to scale our approach to onboarding design talent and empowering teams with design thinking practices. Those practices are not just for designers. They’re practices that bring the whole team together — and that includes business people such as product managers, engineers writing code, release managers, and architects — as well as designers. When we started our program, we pretty much handcrafted the first few projects. We focused on figuring out how to apply design methods effectively, which led us to create IBM Design Thinking. Then, we needed to create education offerings that bring IBM Design Thinking to a larger group of projects in a scalable way. All our education offerings are now under the Designcamp banner.

Q: How does Designcamp work? Is there just one Designcamp?

A: We have multiple flavors of Designcamp. The first thing we launched was Designcamp for product teams. In that offering, we invite a few practitioners from each of the disciplines within a product team to a one-week immersive educational experience. We have four to five different product teams participating together in the same Designcamp session. That way, they can learn from each other. Our main goal is to teach the teams design thinking methods so that they can leverage our practice framework — IBM Design Thinking — to collaborate more effectively and in a user-centric way. That’s been a really successful offering. We’ve brought something like 130 teams through it to date.

We also have a Designcamp for new hires. It lasts three months, so it’s a very thoughtful and immersive way of onboarding designers and bringing them into our culture. We do it seasonally — once in the summer, once in the fall, and once in the winter, so we have three waves of hires coming in. The idea is to bring our designers into IBM in a way that allows them to build very strong design teams and work on some design projects before they get deployed out into the different areas of the business. So they’re learning our particular way of approaching product design, and the ultimate goal is to build a very strong culture and community of designers as soon as they come into the company.

The third flavor of Designcamp, which we started later, is for executives. After we started Designcamp for product teams, we found that the teams that went through it came back and said, “This is great, but our executives don’t really understand what we’re doing. We’re starting to use this language of hills and playbacks, and they don’t know what we’re talking about.” So we’ve created education for executives, all the way from senior vice president down to director-level executives within the product units. Within a one-day format, we help them understand how to work with their teams using IBM Design Thinking as the language and framework.

Q: Do you continue to work with the different groups after the Designcamp sessions end?

A: Designcamp is mainly educational in intent. There’s a lot of active learning, so most of the time when you’re in one of those experiences, you are actually doing something. For example, if you’re one of the project teams coming through, you’re progressing your own project. But the fundamental goal is to help educate people in our values and practices.

However, we’ve also found that teams come to us during the lifespan of their project to help them work together better on the project. When people come to us with that request, that’s not really an education problem — it’s more of a workshopping problem. So we have a team that facilitates workshops. Their goal is to accelerate teams that are already using IBM Design Thinking. If you’re at IBM today working on a product, you’re very likely to have experienced one or more of these various offerings.  

Q: What do you hope that people come away with from these various programs?

A: Regardless of the format, the overall idea of Designcamp is to create an environment where people learn by doing. That way, they can immediately experience the benefits of real-time collaborative activities using design thinking methods, like experience mapping, for example, engage everyone’s creativity, and get everyone on the same page. It’s a powerful way to unite the team’s focus, rather than getting lost in the technology agenda of the team, whatever that might be. In the end, it’s all about focusing on outcomes for users.

Join us on June 16th at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals to hear more from Charlie on IBM Design Thinking.