Good Design Is Good Business: Part I / III

“In short, the first duty of every man or woman in any executive position is to follow the motto of this business: THINK.”

Thomas Watson Sr. IBM Founder in a Memo to Executive Team, 1920

“Good design is good business”

Thomas Watson Jr., IBM CEO Excerpt from a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, 1973

This is part one of a three-part series focusing on the interconnectedness between business and design. The brilliant solutions created by world-class engineers, need to translate into a finished user experience. How does that work? Why is it so important? Over the last century, not many companies have done it better than IBM.

What’s so special about IBM?

I mean… aside from being a global force in technology, management and culture and one of the largest companies in the world. For TBGA, the fascination lies in our admiration of a technology brand that has dominated headlines for over 100 years with an enduring commitment to the interdisciplinary bridge between design, science, and technology. IBM’s company credos THINK has allowed them to evolve their definition of technology from punch cards and electric typewriters to AI and magnum computing. Through perseverance, adaptability and experience, IBM continues to evolve, on an astounding scale.

At TBGA we also approach B2B brand integration in a way that balances the relationship between data, design, and technology. Whether we are working with operations, product, sales, or marketing teams, we provide an unbiased perspective that uncovers market opportunities and creates achievable, hybrid strategies to capture them.

From a design standpoint, IBM stands out among B2B brands and occupies a unique position in the popular imagination. Its belief in the power of design is reinforced by its partnership with some of the greatest design icons of the 20th and 21st centuries. Designers like Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, and Renzo Piano have worked alongside IBM engineers and product designers in their quest to translate mathematical and scientific concepts into engaging learning experiences for general audiences. *We will look more closely at these collaborations in Part II of our series. IBM is living proof that corporate identity cannot simply adhere strictly to form, it must be created and fostered with imagination and vision. And though IBM has stumbled, most notably with its failed attempt to gain market share in home computers in the 80s and 90s, it has remained a creative powerhouse, and stands out as one of the most recognized brands in B2B history.

Mechanical. Electrical. Digital.

Born of M&A as the Computing – Tabulating – Recording Company, IBM’s first big win was the tabulation of the 1890 US census. By applying available mechanical technology, IBM provided the US Government with a solution that established IBM as a world leader in computing systems for both government and private enterprise. Since then IBM has transitioned from a mechanical age of time clocks and tabulators; to an age of typewriters and electromechanical relays; to a digital age dominated by AI and cloud technology. It has regularly reinvented itself by selling off low margin assets while shifting its focus to higher-value, more profitable markets. Its ability to withstand market vicissitudes, and to keep pace with shifts in technology is a hallmark of their reputation. IBM’s ability to think creatively has proven key to their reputation and longevity. They have gone through different cycles of disruptive innovations, leaving some businesses, and creating new ones. They are willing to look beyond their core competencies and their associated core products and the markets of (today), because they may be irrelevant tomorrow. Evolution is part of the culture.

Reframing “business as usual”.

IBM assesses an organization’s people, practices, and products to impact better, user-centered outcomes to help the organization reach its goals. Educating the world on the nature and potential of information, science, and mathematics and translating it with the power of design, is at the heart of their brand’s values. At TBGA, helping technology and B2B brands evolve using systems and stories is what sets us apart, so it makes sense that we would look up to IBM as a company who shares our ethos and does just that, so well.