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These images were originally published last year in my internal IBM blog, but I thought it would be nice to share it externally, after a recent conversation I had with my designer buddy Tracee.

This is the dawn of design at IBM. There is not only a new IBM Design organization, but also a new way of thinking/working spawned by “IBM Design Thinking.” People have been using design thinking methodologies for a long time, but never have we been formally introduced to it inside IBM. Until now.

Design Thinking requires Thinking

This is how many product teams function today:


So how do we get out of this mode of constantly putting band-aids onto our broken products? At some point we have to start back from the beginning.

Design Thinking – Focus on the User

The most important part of IBM Design Thinking in my mind is the “Discover and Envision” phase. We are good at Defining the Mission and Building and Refining, but we need some help in the initial design phases when we’re trying to wrap our heads around what the problem is and how we can solve it. Here is the gist of what that Discover and Envision phase looks like.

Understand. Interview users and let them tell you about their experiences. IBMer: Hi Mr. User...can you tell me about your day and how you use our product? User: Certainly, I usually wake up around 5:30 in the morning, not because I want to, but because I have this cat...Process the information you gathered. IBMer: These sticky note map exercise really help me understand the users and their experience
Explore. Design is an iterative process. Don't expect to get it right the first time. Don't be afraid to throw things away and start over.
Prototype. Prototyping is a way to quickly build out flows or specific interactions to get user feedback to validate that your design is on the right path. User: Wow, I know this isn't the real thing, but it works just enough to give me an idea of how I would feel actually using it!
Evaluate. Strive for constant feedback. Seek criticism over praise. IBMer: Hey Developer, can we build this? Developer: Well, I uh... IBMer: Hey Mr. User, what do you think about this? User: Well, I uh... (Then Evaluate loops back to Explore in an iterative cycle.)

Design Doing – Great works take time!
Those of you who are traditionally schooled designers already know of this process. But in the crunch of releases and conferences and customers, we too often rush through or shove it aside because we don’t have time. If we spend the time doing this up front, we’ll have less problems in the build/refine stage and we won’t run into the issues we see a lot today. Doing great design takes time.

“YOU CANNOT SHORT CIRCUIT THE PATH TO GREATNESS.” – Phil Gilbert, General Manager of IBM Design


"Ok, I'm ready to lean in now...just a little higher, guys..." says Sheryl Sandberg standing on top of a plank entitled "Everyone you ever met", held up by people like "Your college roommate", "Old boyfriend", "Girl who called you bossy", "7th grade math teacher", "your mom", and "your dad", as she is about to plunge into a pool of "Success", where there is a shark waiting


I never fully understood the problem I had with “Lean In” until I read “Outliers.”

The basic message I got from “Outliers” is that you owe your success to a million different factors (many of which are predetermined to throw you onto a success track). So many women will read “Lean In” and join a “Lean In Circle” and it will basically do nothing for them because they aren’t already pointed in the right direction, or dare I say it, born with the right personality. I understand what Lean In means and why it was written, but it was really hard for me to figure out how to actually apply the lessons she learned through life to my own life. I could only come to the conclusion that I would never end up like Sheryl Sandberg, because I’m nothing like her. I’m also not sure if she realized how much of her success depended on all of the other people behind the scenes that molded her into the kind of person she is today. Even down to the people who called her “bossy” as a little girl (which I’m sure her siblings did).

I was never called “bossy”. I was called a “know-it-all”, which still bothers me to this day (however, I am sort of that…I enjoy pointing out to people when they are wrong, which is exactly what a “know-it-all” is, not necessarily a person that knows everything :P). I grew up learning not to speak up (unless spoken to), which is why I hate talking in meetings today, unless I’m specifically asked a question. I grew up learning not to draw attention to myself, which is why when my juice box exploded in my backpack in 6th grade, covering my books and papers with fruit punch, I ran to the office in shame and asked that someone be called to take me home. I was the youngest of three, so I didn’t have anyone to be “bossy” to, and I coasted through school because all the teachers knew my two genius older sisters and gave me automatic A’s because I was related to them. (Also why I made the tennis team, apparently.)

Somehow, in a different universe, I could be like Sheryl Sandberg, at the top of a big company, if I had only taken the opportunities given to me and done the right things with them. That’s all it’s really about. What were you given in life, and what did you make with it? Not everyone is given the same things to begin with…not everyone is going to start with a clear path to Harvard, or a clear voice that demands to be heard. The fact is, everyone IS given something, and it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. Not everyone is meant to be the next Sheryl Sandberg, and not everyone CAN be.

I applaud her for telling millions of women not to back down, not to settle, not to give up, but we have to let women know that they aren’t failing if they don’t end up being at the top of a company, or if they marry someone for love and not just someone that will let them “Lean In”, or if they do decide that maybe they want to quit working and be a stay-at-home mom. And let’s take control of things, but not by banning words we think are the reason why we aren’t succeeding, because we might one day realize that being called something when we were little helped to shape who we are today.

I just can’t resist feeding a little gremlin when it is close to bedtime, if he says something like this:

And after feeding him, I absolutely have to give him more food, if he does this:



There are just some places you don’t even try taking a toddler. Like Carnegie Hall. Or a restaurant that doesn’t have crayons. But there are places that you can’t avoid taking them, like to church.

A few weeks ago the letter from the pastor in the church bulletin was a reminder to everyone that church isn’t a place to socialize and let your kids run free, it’s a place for quiet reverence and prayer. While it was a nice message to send out to people, it really annoyed me how directed and specific the letter was. (Something like “some people have been doing this and some people have been doing that”.) Granted, we only attend one mass out of the week, so maybe the other masses we don’t attend have wild kids running up and down the aisles and throwing popcorn at people and yelling and crying through the whole service. I can only assume however that the letter is directed at me, because there were one or two times my toddler broke free and ran up the aisle, and she still can’t whisper. But since that letter, we’ve spent more time in the entrance vestibule for noisy children than I would like.

The problem here really is my fear of being judged. I see people give me looks when my kids make noise. One of those people probably wrote a letter to the pastor to let him know that my kids were disruptive. She probably didn’t write in her letter about the time before I had kids when this peanut gallery of four old men and women snickered at and mocked the new priest who had a thick Indian accent as he gave his homily. I regret not having turned around and given the look that I often see from (mostly old) people when they think my kids are “out of control”.

People seem to think that “in the good old days”, children were better behaved and parents were stricter and could control their kids better…and while I think there is some tiny bit of truth to it, I think what’s truer is that people nowadays just have no tolerance for others. You keep hearing about people wanting “child-free train cars” or “child-free airlines”…what is next, “child-free mass”? Actually, there is a (mostly) child-free mass. It’s called “get yo ass up at 7:30am and go when most kids are still in bed and there isn’t even a choir to sing the hymns, you have to just read them out loud because no one wants to get up that early”.

I know that once I get over my fear of being judged, I will think of mass more as an educational experience rather than a stressful one. But until then, we’ll be in the vestibule with snacks and toys.

My favorite pencil (since the days of architecture studio in college) is the General “DRAUGHTING” pencil. The lead is dark and soft, which allows for such variation in shading. I do some sketching with it, but usually use a lighter pencil if I know I’m going to ink over it. It’s a pencil that just doesn’t demand to be painted or inked over.

I was commissioned to do a pencil sketch of the new IBM Fellows that were announced this month. Of course, knowing the company, I had to double-check to make sure they knew I specialized in “cartoon-y”, not realistic. Although, I could do realistic if I wanted to, it’s just not my forte, and I would probably end up using a Photoshop filter on a photo to make people think I drew it. I remember when we had to copy a photo of Meg Ryan in art class in high school, and the girl next to me accused me of tracing mine. People are so rude. Anyway…the person who commissioned the sketch wanted a parody of “The Magnificent Seven”, because there were seven Fellows, with giant caricature heads. Ok, I can do that.

But…”pencil sketch” eventually turned into a full color ordeal. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to color it, since I usually color things that have hard lines or are vector, and in Photoshop/Illustrator, it’s just a simple click with the paint bucket and voila, color. I really didn’t want to redo the whole thing as a watercolor, since my watercolor skills are elementary (even since the time a professor scoffed at my attempt to watercolor some plans in studio, and said, “I thought you knew what you were doing!”). I figured, there has got to be a way in Photoshop to use my pencil drawing and just color on top of it. I found this site that taught me the wonder of Multiply.

I scanned in my drawing and tweaked the exposure a little to make the background whiter and the pencil darker, but not dark enough that there wasn’t still variation in shading. Then I set the layer mode from Normal to Multiply, and the white parts just disappeared. I added another layer and started “painting” with the stylus. I used the regular brush to apply color and highlights/lowlights, and use the “Mixer Brush Tool” to blend stuff together. I would have liked the highlights to have a hard edge like watercolors, but I was ok with the way it turned out, especially since you can still see the pencil.

Here it is! Click for a larger version.

It’s too bad the picture didn’t get published on the internal news article, but at least each Fellow got a printed copy of it.

Working from home sucks sometimes. I love the flexibility and the fact that I don’t have to dress nicely (although you could argue that I never dressed nicely to begin with :P), but sometimes it’s lonely when you’re alone at home.

I used to work in a group where everyone sat together in a big lab space…no cubicles, no personal space, no private phone conversations. It was easy to get up and go talk to a coworker about stuff you’re working on and hash out issues without resorting to long email threads or trying to explain over the phone. Working with people in a single location has its benefits, but I don’t believe that we can’t achieve that sort of productivity and collaboration without being in a single location.

Now if we can just find a way to email cake, then I’ll be all set.


In an earlier post, I said I was going to tell you about how there’s really only one downside to being a designer who can code. Well, here it is:

Ok, so no one has really said that to me out loud, but I think it’s pretty obvious that’s what people think. Otherwise, why would you not take advantage of having a designer who knows how to code? How? Well, let me give you a few suggestions:

  • Let the designer-coder work out the kinks of UI. UI development is hard. In any language. And unless you have specific people who were born/bred/educated to do UI development, chances are you’re just going to have a bunch of developers who feel more comfortable writing all the model/controller crud and none of the view stuff. Enter the designer-coder. Maybe she is someone who loves to fiddle with messy UI gorp and would jump at any opportunity to get messy with code. Swing/AWT? SWT? HTML/CSS? Android? XCode? Yes, please.
  • Let the designer-coder work on future prototype stuff. Developers don’t have time to work on extra stuff, especially when they have multiple simultaneous releases to worry about. If you need someone to go off for a couple of days and come back with a working prototype of something for future stuff, let the designer-coder go off and do that.
  • Let the designer-coder get together with other designer-coders and create reusable UI frameworks and widgets/controls/layouts/etc for developers to reuse everywhere, in all products of your company. Maybe they do this in other companies, but not where I work (at least for some products). Reuse across products is hard because every product has its own schedule and management style. By letting designers own the UI, we make them responsible for how things look and they can’t complain when things are pixel-perfect. Because they would be the ones in charge of it.

You’re probably wondering, if I want to do so much coding, why don’t I just become a UI developer? I’ve been there. The downside to being a developer who knows some design is almost as bad as being a designer who knows development…you just don’t have the full credibility of either side.

I know someday, somewhere, I’ll be appreciated for the misfit I am. It’s just a matter of time.

There’s this woman I see regularly at this place I go, and she is always very grumpy. No, I’m not talking about looking in the mirror, sheesh. This woman is just always bitter, always looking down at people with a stern look of disapproval. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile or laugh with people. But tonight I saw her with a big shopping bag, giving out Valentine’s candy.

I know people have a wide range of emotions, and that people can be stern at times and lighthearted at times, but I just don’t see a person who is always grumpy and barks at people being the same person who is kind and generous enough to prepare and give out Valentines. I guess it’s possible, but I would question a Valentine given by someone who is usually a jerk to me.

Maybe I should think about being the bigger person and becoming kind and generous to those who are rude to me, and maybe that will catch on.

Or maybe not. That’s just not the kind of person I am. 😛

(Thanks to JG for the idea. If you’re wondering about the toenails, read this post.)

have something better to do like clip your toenails?

Everyone says that stuff never translates well in IM or email, and that a phone conversation or face to face is better because at least you can hear voice inflection or see facial expressions. But sometimes even those don’t translate well.

I wasn’t actually clipping my toenails, but I might as well have been, since it’s apparent to people that I just sit around and do nothing all day anyway.

I had a rather interesting email thread go on at work that I wanted to illustrate, but it seemed too boring once I thought it through, so I just decided to draw a picture of what I thought was really happening through email:

Ok, maybe it’s going a bit overboard comparing my situation to the Salem witch trials. But there is a lot that people can do to avoid a situation where it makes one person feel like they are being ganged up on for no reason other than to pass the time. A few pointers:

  1. Before you jump to conclusions, make sure your facts are straight. You don’t want to end up looking like an idiot when the “witch” turns out to be right in the end.
  2. If the “witch” admits wrong-doing or ignorance, it’s not necessary to ask further questions like, “why” or “who told you that”.
  3. Most problems with miscommunication can be easily cleared up with a 2 minute IM or phone call. Dragging something out in an email thread with multiple people cc’ed does not help the situation.