Jodi Cutler hero image

Jodi Cutler
Design Principal and Practice Lead,
IBM Watson Health

Introduce yourself.

Hi, hi… I have been a practicing maker of things for the last 45ish years. I have been fortunate to do it professionally for more than half of that time. My experiences shape my perspective, and I treasure the wisdom they bring to me. As a designer, I know I have the power to observe, make, and reflect. As a business professional, I know I have the responsibility to do it with empathy. The labels I identify with are she/her, BFF/wife, Jo-Jo (my stepmom name), Type-1 diabetic, Cancer (my star sign), and (breast) cancer survivor.

What was your path into the design profession?

I went to a small art school, where I honed my craft around making and learning through the make. I studied education, where we learned by doing. My first textbook was a group of 20 high school kids. I had to learn the craft of creating conditions, conditions that would make them successful. I didn’t think I was a designer; I didn’t labor over letter form; I didn’t illustrate magazine covers. Instead, I obsessed about the placement of supplies on the table. How was I going to connect the lesson to a meaningful moment of theirs that would create a new neural pathway? I didn’t realize I was designing until much later.

But technically, how did I get started designing software, products, and experiences? After I graduated, I moved back to Rhode Island, had some art shows. Augmented my art habit bartending when my friend said, “I need someone to make images on the computer. Can you do that?” I told him I hated the computer. But he was convincing. We founded an Internet Service Provider (ISP). I learned to code, I learned how to restart the servers, I learned to quell the angry creep who would call when we did so. I taught people the wonders of the internet and clients to code their websites (not a great business model, I know). There was so much to learn, and I am a ravenous learner. I learned that I loved making experiences on the back of the internet.

Which career stage is the hardest for women?

Ugh. Any stage in which women don’t trust or like themselves. Which for me, the roughest was my 20s. I talked down on myself a lot. I thought I knew things that I didn’t. I had unhealthy relationships. I had no life outside of work. I bought into the 80-90 hour work week. It was a combination of loving what I was doing, wanting to prove that I could, and not knowing how to ask for help, that I wasn’t worth support. I am a self-diagnosed introvert. Putting myself out there hurts. Combine that with self-loathing, and you get self-sabotage. Now that I am on the other side of this, I look to bridge women I see in this hard to recognize the spot and love on them.

Name three projects that made you the designer you are today.

In 1997, I sharpened my relationship with data and built a foundational love for structure and creating conditions for learning and variable-driven design.

I was at working on the SF City Guide. I was quickly invited to the core product team in L.A. because I kept hacking the core product database to do what I wanted. Our Product X team was charged with migrating to a more flexible, data-driven framework, instead of a manually-curated editorial approach. We were given a target of release cycle of one city a month instead of the usual six to eight-month release cycle. We had to rethink the entire experience from a rich and curated experience to bare bones and data-driven while still being engaging. We never knew exactly what we would get when we would turn on a city’s source data: Yellow Pages. I found a love for accounting for flexibility and the unknown, which I drive my team by today.

In 2007, I was working in IBM iX when I got a call that would change how I understood the impact I could have on the world. Our Managing Partner got a call from the Chief of Pediatric Critical Care at Boston Children’s Hospital, inquiring how he might replicate what IBM iX had done for the Masters Tournament (IBM created a virtual experience demonstrating what it was like to putt on Amen Corner.) for the “apprentice-master learning model.”

When we met with Dr. Burns, he realized how his instinct to create a more engaging learning experience had way more implications to help shape the future of distributed expertise. We quickly (in six weeks) worked to create a working proof of concept that demonstrated a real-time question and answer session that connected to experts in critical care and created the first-of-a-kind respirator simulator. The beta went viral and we had to shut it down for security reasons. We hadn’t imagined how successful it would be. We went to the drawing board to rearchitect, rebuild, and fund the project. Our Christmas card from CHB lights up the countries of roughly over 6,000 hospitals where it’s in use.

The third I’m still working on, but I am super stoked to be illustrating and making approachable the really complex landscape of health care. I am coordinating across stakeholders, inspiring designers to elevate their thinking and storytelling like I never have before. All of this is the art of orchestration and connection. This is my next chapter.

How would your career have been different if you were a man?

Yes. I don’t think I would have the sensitivities, the power of observation, the sensing, the feeling. The ability to listen and not act is a femanine energy trait. Would I be further along by now? Of course, I would. A reason women don’t apply to jobs that they don’t match 95% is that even if they match 100%, they still get passed over by men who match 20%. I am glad we have since progressed; a lot has changed in 25 years. I have a place in this world, and I bring my perspective, and it’s unique. Culturally, we don’t value what we don’t know.

Any last thoughts?

Love yourself; don’t shame someone who doesn’t yet know how to.