Working at GE Design

November 5th, 2012 | No Comments »

Last week I started a new full-time position as Principal Designer at GE. Without question, this is going to be the biggest challenge of my career. The scale, the responsibility, the challenges easily outweigh everything I’ve ever done before.

And I think you should also consider GE. Here’s why.

The challenge is big

Step back for a minute and look at GE. There is not a single other company on the planet that can match its combination of sheer size, storied history, and breadth of industries that it touches. They make real things. Really big things. Jet engines. Hybrid locomotives. Wind turbines. Power plants. Water treatment. Medical devices. This is the infrastructure of the world. It doesn’t appear magically. Someone has to make it.

Industrial machinery is more than just metal. Machines are run by software, a lot of software. Almost by accident, GE became one of the largest producers of software in the world. But as you may already be guessing, a lot of it is old. It has a long way to go to be modernized with the front-end technologies that have been created over the last several years. Smartly, GE knows that the software experience is a tangible benefit for their hardware.

They recognize the value of design

Furthermore, they know the way upward is through focusing on design and the customer experience. Over a year ago, they formed Design and Experience group, the group I’m in. It’s our job to build a culture of design in the company. Yes, the whole GE company. Slowly but surely, we’ll do it. How?

  • Create design platforms that can be used across multiple GE businesses. There are naturally patterns of similar experiences in the mass of software, no matter if the subject matter is power plants, trains, planes, wind, water and so on. Health care is a bit different from the above, which is to be expected. We are actively seeking out these patterns and building a library for developers to build from. And of course they’re designed well.
  • Create a UX community through connection and education. We’re seeking out all the isolated designers throughout the company and building a community through various tools, education curriculums, and regular calls featuring speakers.
  • Focusing on the brand. This one will likely surprise you. This is how much GE values design. Yes, our Design and Experience group will be working on one of the oldest and most recognized brands in the world. Bam. This will be fascinating to go through.
  • Make things. Of course we’re also working on things I can’t talk about.

So we need designers

There are several current opportunities to join in the fun, including lead designer (visual and interaction) roles in Healthcare and Transportation. This number will increase over the next several months. The Global Software Center in San Ramon has plans to go big and you can be a part of that.

But in particular, I’m looking for somebody to work alongside me. Does the following sound interesting?

My role as Principal Designer is to tackle long programs, about a year at a time, that focus on specific business challenges and span several target projects. Aviation, Transportation (trains) and Energy will be my playground. Themes running across all the programs include:

  • How do we rethink monitoring, servicing, and analyzing performance of heavy machinery now that we have a firehose of available sensor data?
  • How do we create design systems based on the patterns we recognize across businesses?
  • How do we evolve the maker culture of the company from Engineer to Design and Engineer?

Things I’ll be doing include:

  • Reframing business problems from a technology perspective to a people perspective.
  • Guiding research programs by posing the right questions.
  • Mapping experiences to discover the most effective things to evolve or overhaul.
  • Creating prototypes to explore potential approaches to the problem.
  • Thinking through complex systems and making them, not simple, but flexible.
  • Discovering and documenting patterns and then guiding development of components for them.
  • Exploring ways to visualize mountains of data.

I’m not looking for a partner with a specific skill set. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career, it’s that what you’ve done in the past is not always what you’ll do in the future. Sure you should have a background in the amorphous field of user experience and/or design. But what’s more important to me is a personality of curiosity, compassion, and collaboration.

As a bonus, this is reflected in the group I’m in. They are a key reason why I came on board. Greg Petroff, Samantha Soma, Dave Cronin, Andrew Crow, and Dan Harrelson are a joy to sit with every day. Like most jobs, it’s all about the people.

Sound interesting? If so, find me at billder@ge.com. You never know what may happen.



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