Alumni Stories: Teamwork Triumphs at IBM Design Sprint

By Emily Peck November 26, 2020

This month, current BrainStation students had the opportunity to participate in a Design Sprint, in partnership with IBM.

Each team had five days to design a solution for an identified problem inspired by one of three sample user personas. IBM’s Senior Design Lead David Burdreau and Senior UX Designer Dan Silveira judged the event, and were impressed by what they saw from the student teams. “You guys are blowing me away… it’s absolutely incredible what you can accomplish in five days. It makes me think that we at IBM should do more in five-day sprints,” Burdreau said.

We spoke with the winning team: Hope Liang, Jose-Carlos (Joey) Laguio, Matthew Ahn, Nina Paramonov, Rachel Fuhrer, and Renee Yang. Together, these students designed Task Circle, a remote collaboration app to help improve inclusive interactions between international students and their project teammates.

The Challenge

Currently enrolled in the full-time User Experience Design bootcamp at BrainStation, the students were eager to put their learnings to the test and work with a larger team of Designers with a panel from a design thinking pioneer like IBM.

“The main benefit of participating in the design sprint was having the opportunity to work within a larger group of Designers. In class, we typically worked with around two or three other Designers at a time, but in this case, we had the opportunity of working within a team of six,” said Laguio.

“It was an opportunity to solve big problems in a very short amount of time. It challenged me and gave me a chance to think deeply about important issues,” said Fuhrer.

For their winning project, the team was inspired by the pivot many post-secondary students have had to make while pursuing remote education from all over the world.

“We came up with Task Circle, a digital solution to address the online learning and student collaboration that was designed with international students in mind. We wanted to create something that allowed students to feel valued and included by their peers in order for them to effectively contribute to projects,” said Yang.

Task Circle:

  1. Allows students to communicate and empathize with their classmates
  2. Tracks project progress, successes, and challenges
  3. Supports inclusion by creating space for international students to reach out for help

Working Together While Apart

While trying to solve remote collaboration for other students, the team first had to figure out how they were going to master it for themselves.

“One of the reasons why I think our group worked so well together was because every single one of us did a fantastic job of accommodating each others’ schedules,” said Laguio. With students collaborating from around the world, time zones were another factor to consider in their design process.

Paramonov credits the outstanding professionalism of her teammates for their success. “It was a mix of very humble, curious and hardworking people. All of us put the team interest before personal interests. All decision-making we made together based on logic, time frame and learned material.”

But the design sprint wasn’t without challenges.

Delivering a high-fidelity prototype in just five days to be presented to design leaders from IBM is no small feat.

“We were posed with a daunting challenge and it was difficult figuring out how to get started. We had lots of questions, confusion about what to focus on and lots of uncertainty in general. I learned that getting started, making assumptions, and asking questions is the hardest, but most important part,” said Fuhrer. 

Design thinking requires conducting user research to test assumptions and learn more about user needs. When the team’s initial assumptions and hypothesis didn’t align with what they uncovered through their research, they had to reevaluate their project’s purpose.

“It was a chance for us to pivot from our original idea, we had to kind of let go of our attachment to previous plans, but we all had an understanding that we needed to focus on what would bring the best solution,” said Yang.

Communication around what would bring the best solution and keep the project moving forward also proved to be a bit of a challenge. 

Much like design teams in the workplace, communication proved to be essential. As the team of six ideated, different opinions and visions emerged, but this did not stall the project’s progress.

“Even if we didn’t fully agree, it didn’t mean the conversation had to stop,” said Laguio. “We created a space where it was okay to respectfully challenge others’ ideas, and where it was even better to riff off of them to spur even more creative ideas.”

When presentation day arrived, Liang recalls the excitement her team felt as they prepared. “All team members were helping each other to practice their speech, time the parts, adjust the [slide] deck, and do whatever it takes to make the final pitch flawless.” 

“There’s always a desire to push further and if you had more time you feel as if you could do more, do better. It’s important to manage expectations,” notes Ahn.“It was satisfying to see our presentation come together. To see all of our hard work come together in the end, we felt proud of each other.”

Taking the Next Step

Fuhrer credits BrainStation’s extensive curriculum with her ability to tackle the sprint, “The 12-week bootcamp is taught by passionate educators that come from different industry backgrounds and experiences. They have taught me so much… design concepts, skills, career guidance, and I’ve been supported from day one to fully launch myself into a UX career,” she said, adding that the program also gave her hands-on experience with essential design tools. 

“I went from never touching design software prior to BrainStation, to presenting our project in week seven with ease and confidence,”  she said. 

The team encourages those considering a career change to take their first step into the unknown. “Embrace ambiguity. Accept that you might not know where that next step might take you, and that this is okay.” said Laguio. “I took the leap and threw myself into [BrainStation’s] intensive UX Design bootcamp. And now, it’s really surreal thinking about how we’ve just won our first design sprint with IBM and comparing that to the fear-filled me from a few months ago!”