Designing at scale: IBM Designcamps and Mural

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
September 22, 2015
Designing at scale: IBM Designcamps and Mural
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
September 22, 2015

IBM is transforming itself into a design-driven company. Their philosophy? Good design is good business: it’s the leading edge weapon to remain competitive and successful in the market.

In a traditionally engineering-lead company, this about-face requires a big culture shift. With nearly 400,000 employees around the world, that’s no easy task.

To spread Design Thinking throughout organization, IBM’s big challenge is to turn its employees into design thinkers. This begins with a comprehensive education program, a key pillar of the IBM Design strategy.

ibm 2


These comprehensive education programs are called  IBM Designcamps -- a key way for bring Design Thinking to everyone in the enterprise. So far, the IBM Design team has worked face-to-face with thousands of IBMers in Designcamps, and they continue to run more.

There different versions of the IBM Designcamp:

  • A three-month camp for new design hires
  • A one week product team camp
  • A one or two-day leadership camp for executives

I was fortunate enough to attend a recent leadership Designcamp at IBM’s new Astor Place office. Roughly 25 top managers of varied roles from a slew of different locations had come together to participate.

Doug Powell, the program director of the education program, ran the session. He began with an overview of IBM’s adaptation of Design Thinking. This consists of a set of lightweight practices just about anyone can get started with immediately, for instance empathy maps and scenarios.

playback 1
Doug Powell (right) leading the Designcamp at IBM


Designcamps are hands-on. Each breakout group tried out a range of design thinking techniques first hand. Here are some of the key activities we explored in the workshop:

  • Empathy Maps - based on personas the instructors had already provided
  • As-Is Scenario Maps - simple maps of journey for a given persona.
  • Ideation - metaphors to represent possible solutions
  • Storyboarding - visualizations of possible solutions that the teams then voted on with dot voting.
  • Lean Business Model Canvas - a one-page business model worksheet Ash Maurya in his book Running Lean.
Ideation using metaphors for possible concepts


To help promote design thinking, IBM has invested in world class design studios for many of their locations. They believe the experience of being in a dynamic design-oriented space is key to creative problem solving.

Despite the emphasis on the importance of an innovation space, a great deal of work at IBM is done in distributed teams. This is where MURAL comes in. With MURAL, they are able to work visually, even when working online. So far, the tool has proven invaluable to practicing design thinking remotely.

MURAL allows IBM’s design leaders to create activity templates. With templates, design thinking can be practiced at scale, and design leaders know their methods are being practiced consistently throughout the company.

Creating templates in MURAL is efficient: multiple activities can be combined into one mural. We created the example below as an example where we combine several design thinking techniques in one place.

Experience Map Examle
Example template in MURAL combining several activities


IBM has been successful for over a century. They are looking to design to make the next 100 years even more prosperous. At IBM,he Design Thinking education program is not just nice to: it plays a key role in their future. MURAL is proud to be part of IBM’s transformation into a design-driven company.

Interested in design thinking? Find out more about the exciting changes happening at IBM by checking out their website.

You might also enjoy this talk from Phil Gilbert, the General Manager of Design at IBM, explaining their mission and process.

If you'd like to learn more about how to scale design in your organization, please contact us directly. We'd be happy to talk with you. Contact:

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.

Related blog posts

No items found.