Our Chief Designer, David Townsend, takes new designers aside when they join our team and tells them, “This is the most complicated thing you’ll ever design. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. And know that everything else in your career you design after this will be easy compared to what you’re about to do.” This week, I talked to Morgan Fritz, a new designer in our San Francisco Studio, to find out what it’s like to turn some of most abstract and complex software in the world into a product that should be easy, and a pleasure, to use.
Why did you choose to study Design?
I studied Fine Arts in high school, but it was too much time alone in a room. I wanted something more social, and something for a bigger cause. I went to Carnegie Mellon to study industrial design and then user experience (UX) – I loved the system thinking. You’re thinking, not just making pretty pictures. IBM is perfect for that.
Exactly! The only downside is that is can be hard to explain to other people what we do, because it’s technical challenging.
You’ve been here at IBM for 7 months, and your first project was the Data Science Experience (DSX)v, which went from a seed project to full blown GA in a very short period of time, and every customer I’ve shown DSX to, loves it. It’s a tremendous achievement. What was it like to design it?
Crazy. We came in, and for all of us it was either our first job out of Design School or we were new to IBM, and it was like, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what a data scientist is, go!’ The pace was what we wanted: fast, like the momentum at college. And to experience a full product from research to launch for my first project on my first job, to be able to see something go all the way through and to be able to point to it and say, “I did that,” that was a crazy opportunity.
Design plays such a critical role in our products. Earlier today I talked to our machine learning team about how we can make sure design is part of everything we do, to help ensure ease of use. From your experience, do you think design is incorporated in a way that will result in a product that’s easy to use?
Oh absolutely, but a lot of that comes with growing and learning. The DSX design process started to work after we learned to work with our dev team and with offering management. After GA, we did a retrospective – how could the process have been better? It happened so fast – files were flying around – so we learned so much from the retrospective.
What do you do outside of work?
Travel, most recently around California; I just got back from Yosemite. Next is Pittsburgh. I’m launching a fashion line and I have to show a dress at the Carnegie Mellon Fashion Show. This weekend I have to buy the fabric and make it.
What is it about travel you like? The novelty of new landscapes, or more the process of getting there?
Insights. I spent 6 months in New Zealand and I carried a sketchbook everywhere. It was nice to be able to spend that much time there because I made friends and then stayed with them in different places. And even in a work context, we design for a certain market, but we have international studios; we’re designing for a larger base than just people from Silicon Valley, CA, so it’s nice to actually understand different places and people.
What gives you the utmost satisfaction, the product being released, or looking at the design and ensuring that it’s simple enough to use? If you look at satisfaction from an engineering perspective, you’ve coded it, you’ve designed the architecture, and when you release it, that’s the point of satisfaction.
There’s no one right answer in design–but there’s this magical moment when you’re like, I think we got it right, I think we nailed it. It’s that point before launch, when we hand off to devs, when we’re not just saying, ‘here’s our design,’ but talking through technical aspects with them: you feel like everything falls into synch.
You’re a group of new talent at IBM. You’re in San Francisco, and there’s a lot of opportunity. What’s is the perception of working here as opposed to, say, at Uber or Lyft?
On one side, it’s definitely challenging. Design is just emerging into IBM; we’re still finding a good rhythm to working with developers. On the other side we’re given so much influence. I think that’s so substantial compared to other tech companies, the fact that we can say our small team is part of a core part of this huge product we released. It’s crazy to feel like you have that much influence in such a large company. Looking back on DSX we can say, ‘We did this, everything we designed had an intention, and that intention got followed through to the end.’ That’s such a great feeling.
Name: Morgan Fritz
Years at IBM: <1
Currently Working On: UX for DSX and IBM Data Platform
Hometown: Santa Rosa CA
Top 5 Design Destinations: Queenstown, New Zealand; Santa Fe, NM; Istanbul, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Santa Rosa, CA
Dinesh Nirmal – Vice President, IBM Analytics Development
Follow me on Twitter: @dineshknirmal