Learning from the IBM Design F.ACT Summit


In partnership with AIGA, the professional association for design, IBM held a series of Design Thinking Facilitation summits to train AIGA chapter leaders their methodologies and principles to design thinking and how to facilitate our own sessions.

I joined board members from across the country in the IBM New York City office in Astor Place eager to learn how we could use design thinking locally with our members and learn how the practice can activate teams across multiple disciplines. IBM team members shared tips and case studies. They also led hands-on exercises, demonstrating design facilitation through role-playing and practice problems.

Empathy Mapping example from Summit

Empathy Mapping example from Summit

What is Design Thinking?

At its core, design thinking is a human-centered process for solving problems. Seen as a framework, design thinking can be used to “solve our users’ problems at the speed and scale of the modern digital enterprise.” As a human-centered approach, it can be applied to anything from reimagining your morning routine, to business goals, and more. By shifting focus to the user and fostering empathy, we gain a more human-centered mindset as we approach business, design and technology.

Though this was a training facilitated and created by the IBM Design team, they are not the first to use this methodology in philosophy and approach. Design thinking first became popular in association with Stanford and IDEO back in the 90s.

It can be used to:

  • Create and foster empathy within a team for a user/user base

  • Solve complex problems

  • Address internal or external organizational issues

  • Prioritize product features while considering feasibility and importance

  • Link to an Agile approach to scope stories and scrum

Coming Together

The activities that were demonstrated put us in a mindset of radical collaboration, where ideas are generated and iterated on quickly, and efficiently. Participants are writing, recycling, reiterating and moving in a constant cycle to avoid over thinking and analyzing details that put a pause to the brainstorming process. This is great because it helps you avoid those endless brainstorming sessions where everyone talks in circles.

The exercises that occur during a design thinking workshop help level the playing field and bring in the opinions, thoughts, concerns and expertise of everyone who’s knowledge and experience is vital to the process. However, these exercises only work as long as everyone is an active participant.

IBM provided fascinating examples of how design thinking can be facilitated for teams in any organization. The key benefit of facilitation being this: Reimagining how people approach tasks, regardless of the level of complexity, requires deep empathy and understanding. Design thinking helps us reconsider a challenge, put ourselves in the shoes of the people who are impacted by our solutions and then explore a diverse range of solutions.

Training photo from summit

Training photo from summit


For more on IBM Design Thinking Facilitation

How IBM Trains Design Thinking Facilitators

Nick Di Stefano