It's so refreshing to chat to someone like IBM Designer Collin Vaughn about the ins and outs of working within a big corporation. His role is so varied; he's worked on building the IBM Design experience at SXSW, he facilitates Design Thinking workshops with clients, plus he's a creative co-lead for their internal print magazine. It really is a little bit of everything!

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?

I grew up infatuated with cartoons, album artwork, and skateboard graphics. I remember ripping music (typically punk and metal) online and spending hours meticulously searching for the associated album art. If I was unable to find anything I would put together my own odd and obscure illustrations and photo-collages in Photoshop CS2. That and copying skateboard graphic from dudes like Sean Cliver and Marc McKee, and dumb cartoon and comic book characters.

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?

My journey into Design wasn’t a love at first sight story. I knocked out my basics at a community college and was working manual labor in 105 degree weather at an oil refinery when decided I to go back to school for art. I really thought I was going to be a painting major until I explored the idea of ‘applied art’ and graphic design as a profession. It took me a while, but after taking a couple classes I realized design was more or less my love for problem solving, conceptual thinking, image making and typography.

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What does a typical working day include for you right now?

Right now we’re in the process of taking our Enterprise Design Thinking offering to clients. So my day to day is typically product development, prototyping and usability testing, and informing the team in what direction I believe we should take with our product from a visual and UX perspective. Some days I spend in my note book drawing flows, others behind my computer making screens, and everyday I am collaborating closely with my team to iterate and enhance the work at hand.

What qualities and skills do you look for in a graduate?

The first thing we look for, like any good designer should, is a proficiency in design skill and craft. Not just beautiful work, but critical and conceptual thinking, and how you're telling stories about the work you make and how you go about making it. Working in big business requires a certain optimism to iterate and improve ideas sometimes 15 times over. We look for people who operate with the empathy and patience to work closely, listen deeply, and co-create with others. Lastly, I always like to ask “Would I want to work with this person?” Are you humble, grounded, and fun? We take work seriously, but no one wants to spend 40 hours a week working with a Jerk-face.

Design work by IBM The Design Kids interviews IBM work-4
Design work by IBM The Design Kids interviews IBM work-4

It is so important students allow themselves to fail, especially in school. Your work does not, and should not be perfect in Typography 101.

Are you involved in any teaching and if so how it shapes your practice?

IBM gives me the unique opportunity to be involved in all sorts of awesome education opportunities both internally and externally. I have spoken at universities, and run workshops for students and clients, teaching them the value of Design Thinking in their work. Facilitating Design Thinking workshops is a passion of mine because you get to help teams break through their blinders and come to new ideas they couldn’t have come up with in a meeting room. Personally I get to learn new domain knowledge, and grow through sharing my reflections, experiences, and failures with other people.

Any passion projects/collabs you would like to share?

A benefit of working at IBM is the freedom to explore and create work outside of the day to day grind, but still within the company. In 2015, my first year at IBM I was selected as part of a small team to brand and build out the IBM Design experience at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Needless to say it was an amazing opportunity for a young designer right out of school. I got to step away from product design for a bit, and think deeply about Environmental design, immersive experiences, and how IBM shows up to the public. I was really proud of the work and got to stay on the team the following year. I’m also a creative lead for an internal print magazine we produce called Variable, which showcases the culture of Design within IBM. Working with a team of super talented people, we built the brand, art direct pieces, and get down building layouts, making illustrations and type setting articles. It's alot of fun.

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Who’s on the team, what are their roles and why do you love them?

Offering Management, Research, Design, Development, Content, and Video Production. I love them all, but I especially love my researchers and FEDs. Research keeps me honest and realistic, challenging my work and ultimately making it better and more intuitive. FEDs help me make cool shit, or if I’m proposing something dumb or preposterous, keep me grounded in reality. Without development, my designs are static screens or phony prototypes, they make everything real.

What three naughty things have you done in your career to get ahead?

There are two things I contribute to where I’m at in my career today. One is working on passion projects with-in the company. After hours and on weekends, working on projects representing our studio culture and thinking of new and creative ways to display it. For example being a part of IBM’s SXSW experience and our internal Variable magazine. These projects allow the freedom to make really cool stuff, and the exposure that comes with making something no one expected to exist. And two, moving around. Your first team, or job, might not be the best fit. I took a few lateral moves to find a team I could thrive on and really make an impact.

What advice would you give students starting out?

Fail Often. Explore, try new things, break shit, and screw up. Then reflect on your actions and make something better from your mistakes. It is so important students allow themselves to fail, especially in school. Your work does not, and should not be perfect in Typography 101.

Design work by IBM The Design Kids interviews IBM work-9
Design work by IBM The Design Kids interviews IBM work-9

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