IBM Launches Distinguished Designer Program

IBM has launched a new program to honor excellence in design just as it does with its Distinguished Engineers program to recognize its best engineers.

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IBM has launched a new Distinguished Designer program to indicate the importance of design as part of the IBM culture and to recognize top designers within the company.

Big Blue established the role of Distinguished Engineer 20 years ago to highlight engineering innovation as critical to IBM's success. Now IBM has named its first Distinguished Designers, who will drive innovation by leading the development of IBM's design practices.

Indeed, IBM recognizes design as a technical craft on a par with engineering as critical to the long-term success of the company and key driver of value for its customers, said Fahad Osmani, talent director for IBM Design.

"From a standpoint of importance to the product development process, design is absolutely on par with engineering at IBM," Osmani told eWEEK. "Would you ever need one designer for every engineer? Probably not. That's not going to be a healthy ratio for any product development organization. But I would say from a voice in the room, first-class citizenship, decision-making influence, design is on par with engineering on all of those things on the projects we're embedded with."

IBM Design is three years into its mission of driving a culture of design within the company. The company has built what it claims is the world's largest design team, with 1,250 designers and 29 design studios around the world. Designers work on multidisciplinary teams on IBM products; digital engagement platforms for customers via the company's digital agency, IBM Interactive Experience (IBM iX); and branding and marketing initiatives.

And three years after launching its design effort in earnest, IBM has named three Distinguished Designers: Doug Powell, Adam Cutler and Charlie Hill. The new Distinguished Designers will report to Phil Gilbert, general manager of IBM Design.

Powell joined IBM in 2013 as director of the IBM Design Education + Activation program, where he has introduced IBM Design Thinking to hundreds of multidisciplinary project teams and tens of thousands of IBM employees. He previously was national president of the AIGA (formerly known as the American Institute of Graphic Arts), the professional association for design. Powell also is a lecturer and thought leader on design issues.

As an IBM Distinguished Designer for IBM Studios in Austin, Texas, Powell will drive the development of the global IBM Studios experience for IBM employees, clients and partners, with the goal of establishing a scalable and consistent global go-to-market platform for human-centered design, Osmani said.

Cutler joined IBM in 2001 after working in advertising in Chicago, during which his customer list included basketball legend Michael Jordan. He then served as director of User Experience Design at IBM iX, working with customers including OPENPediatrics for Boston Children's Hospital. Since 2013, Cutler has been IBM Design practice director, where his team developed IBM Design Language and IBM Design Thinking. As an IBM Distinguished Designer for IBM Cognitive Design Practices in Austin, Cutler will drive IBM's cognitive design agenda and the interface between humans and cognitive technologies. He will define "cognitive-specific" practices for IBM's design language and education to be used by the company's designers across the world. That includes cognitive practices for design research, user experience design and visual design.

Hill has experience with software design and delivery, as well as a research background in designing digital work environments. He was named an IBM Distinguished Engineer in 2012, and was instrumental in founding IBM's Design organization. He served as IBM Design CTO, where he built new design capabilities and created a sustainable culture of design. Hill previously was a member of Apple's Human Interface Group, where his design work focused on integrated hardware/software user interfaces and electronic workspaces.

As an IBM Distinguished Designer for Design Transformation at IBM's studio in Cambridge, Mass., Hill will be responsible for establishing connections between designers and design practices and overall IBM culture and processes. This includes operating and management systems that measure the value of design across IBM. His focus areas include developing an approach to measuring user outcomes that can be implemented at scale across IBM and strengthening IBM's talent development processes for designers.

Osmani said IBM's latest transformation comes at a time when users expect enterprise IT to be as intuitive as their devices. There has been a change in the people who develop and purchase enterprise IT, he noted, and they expect technology to be easy to use. And IBM's customers, including retailers, banks and others all want to create personalized, iconic digital experiences for consumers.

Osmani explained that about three years ago, just as Ginni Rometty was getting her feet wet as CEO, Big Blue was shifting its focus to working with both the traditional IT-focused customers and the business users within customer organizations. This was a change from its traditional role as a pure IT-focused company working directly with the IT organizations of its customers and developing hardware and software specifically for them, he said.